Open Meetings Act can be tricky problem

Nov 06, 2013

Editor:

The curiosity that was expressed in Ms. Thorsen’s letter (Oct. 31) regarding the apparent lack of support by City Council members by not attending the Oct. 18 fundraiser at the Edmonds Yacht Club can be answered.

But it is a tricky answer and it has to do with the Open Meetings Act (OPMA) and in particular RCWs 42.30.020 and 42.30.30.

According to the General Attorney’s office, “…the presence of a quorum of members of a city council or county council at a public event, gathering, or meeting does not trigger application of the Act unless the quorum takes an “action” by transacting official business of the city or county.  We also conclude that when the Act applies to council members attending a third party’s meeting, the council members do not violate the Act if the meeting is open to the public and if the governing body follows the requirements of the Act for giving notice of a special meeting.”

It’s the word “action” that complicates the matter.  The OPMA defines an “action” as the “transaction of the official business of the agency.”  Some specific examples of “actions” are provided in the Act:  “[T]he transaction of the official business of a public agency by a governing body including but not limited to receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations, and final actions.”  RCW 42.30.020(3)

In all likelihood, if a quorum of City Council members had attended the fundraiser, no “action” would have taken place. But for many members of city councils, boards and commissions in Washington State, it is easier to make sure that no quorums attend such events thereby avoiding any perception of impropriety.

To give an example, the members of Edmonds’ Port Commission at their regular meetings discussed about how many commissioners would attend any City Council meeting or Planning Board meeting whenever their Harbor Square Master Plan was on that meeting’s agenda.

If a quorum decided to attend those meetings, the Port Commission posted an announcement of a “special Port meeting” in a local news outlet as prescribed by the OPMA.

It is to their credit that they took such care to avoid any possibility of triggering a violation of the OPMA, even though they took no “action” at those meetings.

Hopefully this answer satisfies Ms. Thorsen’s curiosity.  As to the other question about supporting the merchants in Edmonds, the City Council members are pretty good about answering their emails.

Respectfully,

Eric Livingston

Edmonds

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