Council set to stop taking notes in private meetings
Last updated 5/26/2016 at Noon
Due to concerns about public disclosure and workload for city staff, a majority of Edmonds City Councilmembers are seeking to reverse a 1996 decision to take minutes during executive sessions. Some residents see this as a violation of their right to public information and a lack of transparency by the city.
The council directed the city attorney on Tuesday to bring a resolution to its June 7 meeting to reverse Resolution 853 that requires the city clerk to take minutes during private, confidential council meetings.
Washington State Law allows city governments to hold private executive sessions under the Open Public Meetings Act, provided certain criteria are met. The law does not require minutes to be taken.
Edmonds resident Scott Blomenkamp said the council and administration have not been adhering to the resolution, and the council is attempting to justify cost and workload for the clerk’s office as reasons for the reversal.
Blomenkamp has filed a public records request for all of the executive session minutes from 1996 to 2016.
“I requested them because right now the council, by their own resolution, is violating their resolution,” Blomenkamp said. “They resolved to release the minutes proactively, not wait for someone to put in a request, which obviously does cause more overhead.”
City Clerk Scott Passey said the clerk’s office has spent over 50 hours on the request so far, and it will take months to complete.
Blomenkamp said if the city was adhering to the resolution by taking minutes, and reviewing and approving them in a timely manner, a request like his would not be burdensome for the clerk’s office.
Attorney Jeff Taraday said one issue is that minutes are viewed as “notes,” and are not formally reviewed until a public records request is made.
Blomenkamp said there are legitimate reasons for the council to meet in private, such as litigation.
“The purpose is very legitimate,” he said, “however, how do you know if it’s legitimate if records aren’t kept?”
In the case of litigation, Blomenkamp said it would be adverse to the city for some information to be made public before a legal issue is resolved.
“[That’s] very legitimate,” he said. “However, the citizens should be able to see what decisions were made and how they were made at some point. That’s the purpose of the resolution.”
Blomenkamp cited the state’s Public Disclosure Act: The people do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.
In a May 25 letter to the council, Edmonds citizen Ken Reidy wrote it “seems that the City Council wants to put the public at a great disadvantage by having a harmful resolution prepared that the public will have to fight from behind hardly a fair public process. The conduct of the current City Council is beyond shameful.”
Reidy said the reversal of the resolution is motivated by the council and administration, not citizens.
“There continues to be no indication that even one citizen has asked for the city to stop keeping and retaining minutes of City Council executive sessions,” he wrote.
Councilmembers asked the attorney if the resolution were to be reversed, would they be allowed to take their own notes, and would those notes be subject to public disclosure.
Taraday said there is no policy barring note-taking, however, it does fall into a gray area.
“There are risks when taking notes during executive session,” he said.
The council voted 5-1 in favor of a draft resolution for reversal of Resolution 853.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas was the dissenting vote. She would prefer to continue using a professional note taker. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis was absent.
The council will vote at 7 p.m. at its Tuesday, June 7, meeting in the Council Chambers at the Public Safety Complex, 250 5th Ave. N.