Editorial: Conduct public’s business openly

The state Open Public Meetings Act requires actions of public agencies to be “taken openly and ... their deliberations be conducted openly ... so that the people may maintain control over the instruments they have created.”

Public servants sometimes forget whom they are serving and close the doors on the public when it’s not necessary.

Whidbey Islanders are no strangers to having doors slammed in their faces by public officials, from the governor on down.

Gov. Christine Gregoire’s staff recently tried to keep the press and public out of a meeting between the governor and Oak Harbor leaders regarding base closure issues. The reason was that they wanted a “frank discussion” of the issues.

Excuse us, but the public is entitled to hear their elected officials and community leaders frankly discuss a critical issue like base closure. The governor, to her credit, opened the doors to the meeting when she learned of complaints about the closed door policy even though the move ruffled the feathers of a staff member or two.

In Island County government, the Planning Commission, at the urging of Planning Director Phil Bakke, held a secret, “executive session,” last week on Camano Island, despite complaints from the press and one former Planning Commission member, as well as other members of the public, that it was inappropriate. The concern apparently surrounded legal issues, but the Planning Commission has no powers in such matters. That’s the business of Island County Commmissioners. Bakke should be strongly and publicly reprimanded for closing a meeting dealing with important land-use issues.

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District held an unnecessary closed meeting this month to discuss why attorney Bill Hawkins had resigned after an apparent disagreement with one commissioner, Fred Henninger. This board has a long history of abusing the Open Meetings Act, and the public should know why Hawkins submitted his letter of resignation.

There are allowances in the Open Meetings Act for closed meetings, but these should be rarely used by elected officials and their appointees. It’s the public’s business they’re dealing with, it’s the public’s money they’re using, and the public needs to know what they’re up to, uncomfortable as that may be at times.

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