Seattle City Council opening the windows on budget meetings
The Seattle City Council has decided to end closed-door meetings of four council members with city budget staff. This was a ridiculous, unwinnable thumbing of rules that say council members should conduct the public's business in public.
Seattle Times editorial
HEARTY congratulations to the Seattle City Council for changing course on a wrongheaded approach to open, er, closed, public meetings.
The council had been meeting behind closed doors in groups of four with budget staff, though its own attorney said such gatherings may violate the state open-meetings law.
The law says any meeting of five council members constitutes a quorum and must be public. One question centered on what happened once results of meetings of four were communicated to a fifth member.
Friday, the council altered its approach, but the egg was planted firmly on the council's face.
A legislative aide to Councilmember Jean Godden physically dragged Seattle Times reporter Emily Heffter away from the meeting by her purse strap. Godden had been a journalist for decades before joining the council. Another former journalist, Councilmember Tim Burgess, formerly of the ethics and elections commission, absurdly asserted the issue is a red herring.
Not really. If representatives of the state attorney general's office and city attorney Tom Carr say such meetings violate the spirit or letter of the law, then the council should not stretch the rules.
Most perplexing, the council did not seek Carr's advice before holding the sessions. Carr said he believes the private, closed-door budget briefings may violate the law.
The other irony is the council dramatically increased interest in otherwise routine budget talks. The city is facing a $43 million budget hole this year. Council members were asked to meet in private with budget staff so they would be in the loop early in the process.
Now the mayor's budget staff will meet one-on-one with council members.
The council's unfounded fear of the public, combined with a similarly unfounded fear of a journalist writing about the cuts, made little sense.
It's a dangerous, slippery slope. Once council members allow deliberations behind closed doors, they begin to get comfortable doing the public's business in private.
The one-on-one briefings of council members will be conducted along with public meetings on the budget.
Somebody must have pumped extra oxygen into City Hall to help our public representatives think more clearly
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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