Editorial: City subcommittee strays from the law

They may have been well intended, but the Oak Harbor City Council violated the Open Public Meetings Act last week.

A majority of council members attended a meeting of a subcommittee, thereby creating a quorum. The public was informed of the subcommittee meeting, but not that a majority of the council would be there. The result was a quasi-meeting of the City Council in which matters of importance to citizens were discussed, with no public notification beforehand. No voting was done, but public business was pursued in the form of discussion, and the public should have been told in advance of a special meeting of the City Council. All the public knew was that a powerless subcommittee was meeting.

Mayor Jim Slowik appointed a number of subcommittees early in his tenure so specific city issues could be discussed in depth among a minority of council members. These members would be able to spend more time discussing the issues, invite more members of the public to give their ideas in an informal atmosphere, and then go back to the full council with a report. Any proposals from the subcommittees would have to be discussed by the full council, and any decisions made by the full council.

The subcommittees are understandable considering how many issues confront the council members, who work for a mere stipend. And the city has done a good job of notifying the public in advance of the subcommittee meetings. But a majority should never attend, as happened last week. Furthermore, care should be taken that the subcommittee’s discussions are fully public. Minutes should be taken and they should be voice or video recorded so any member of the public may readily access them.

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

In the future, the mayor should do a better job of overseeing the action of the subcommittees to make sure they don’t stray from the law. The public’s right to know what its elected officials are doing, and when, is inviolable.

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