Real letter beats a virtual person | Editorial
August 7, 2012 · Updated 3:59 PM
It was quaint to see controversy erupt in a recent meeting of the county Law & Justice Council, when member Angie Homola, a county commissioner, had someone read a letter from her as she was away at another engagement.
Prosecutor Greg Banks complained that Homola should have been present, rather than sending a letter. The council was embroiled in a battle with the county commissioners, asking that a sales tax increase to support law and justice departments be placed on the November ballot. None of the commissioners seemed to support the idea for one reason or another, but Homola was particularly criticized because she wanted the extra money to help other needy departments as well.
Political arguments are common, but the novelty of someone complaining about a letter was unexpected in the 21st Century. For those concerned about open public meetings, letters aren’t on the radar. Quill and ink were good enough for the founders and Bic pens should be good enough for modern government.
What really has open meeting advocates concerned is modern media. Oak Harbor City Councilwoman Tara Hizon, for example, recently “attended” a council meeting via telephone conference call. She was allowed to vote without being physically present. And telephones, of course, are old news. Other jurisdictions are arguing about the legality of elected officials attending meetings and voting by Skype, a computer program that shows a pixilated head floating in a box.
Entire virtual meetings may be on the horizon. In Oak Harbor, seven computer screens with floating heads could be facing the audience, and the actual elected official could be home drinking a beer or sneaking glances at Real Housewives of Greenbank when not onscreen.
The prospect of unchecked virtual powers of elected officials has open meeting and good government advocates in a tizzy. Expect a lot of hearings in Olympia in the coming months.
As for old fashioned letters, keep them coming. Homola, at least, didn’t try to vote by letter.