Technological problems don’t excuse meetings violation

The Coupeville School Board inadvertently violated the state Open Public Meetings Act by holding a meeting Monday night that many people couldn’t watch due to a technological snafu.

Like every other local government body, the school board held its meeting online to avoid potentially exposing anyone to COVID-19.

There was a lot of interest in the meeting because Superintendent Steve King announced that staff cuts are likely since the district’s reserve funds have dwindled to under 1 percent and it’s unclear how the pandemic will impact state education funding.

People have tough questions about how and why the reserves were allowed to get to such an unhealthy state.

But many people were left in the dark because Google Stream didn’t allow outside domains, according to a school official. School officials knew about the problem as the meeting was starting. The meeting should have been postponed until the problem was resolved.

The governor’s proclamation 20-28 is clear. “Any public agency, subject to RCW 42.30, is prohibited from conducting any meeting, subject to RCW 42.30 unless (a) the meeting is not conducted in-person and instead provides an option(s) for the public to attend the proceedings through, at minimum, telephonic access, and may also include other electronic, internet or other means of remote access, and (b) provides the ability for all persons attending the meeting to hear each other at the same time.

Obviously, the public did not have, at minimum, telephonic access. It’s also unclear why the board didn’t use a streaming service that other boards and councils on the island have had success with.

The cure to the violation is for the board to repeat the meeting with public access that works. This is far from ideal since board members and school officials have already discussed the issues and any significant extemporaneous remarks have been lost to the ether of cyberspace.

But even if it’s just a redo, it should be redone. Government transparency should not be a casualty of the pandemic.

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