This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
The new Tacoma City Council isn’t making much of a first impression. Not even two weeks into the new year, the council is already on notice with a court.
The council’s meeting last Wednesday to pick the finalists for two council vacancies raised many an eyebrow, but by all appearances the council remains unrepentant.
Council members not only excluded the public from its discussion about the 44 applicants – which it’s legally entitled to do – but also went a step beyond the law by privately settling on a list of finalists.
The public got spectacle rather than insight. Eight times in a row, Councilman Jake Fey motioned to name a finalist, Councilwoman Lauren Walker seconded, and the council voted unanimously without discussion.
It was “curious,” as finalist David Boe described the process. To say the least. To this day, Tacoma citizens have no real idea what, in council members’ eyes, set these eight apart in their ability to serve the public.
The council could have shed some light on the subject Tuesday, when it met to interview the finalists in public. It was well aware that this newspaper and others had concluded that it acted illegally.
But rather than address the subject head-on or mitigate concerns by discussing why the finalists had made the cut, the council went along its merry way as if nothing were amiss.
The News Tribune went to court Wednesday to try to force the council to have a serious discussion of the candidates in the open.
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff concluded that the city likely violated the law. He declined to block the council from voting to fill the vacant positions, but he ordered the city to videotape today’s executive session to ensure the council doesn’t overstep its bounds.
The council should do the court’s order one better: Keep the closed-door meeting short or skip it altogether. Let citizens hear a robust and frank discussion about who is best-suited to lead the city.
Council members seem to think they are sparing people’s feelings by not discussing the applicants’ qualifications in public. What they are doing is undermining their future council colleagues, who will come to office by way of a tainted process. A nice welcome, that.
Council members also have undermined the public’s faith in their commitment to open government. Earning back that trust depends on the city erring on the side of transparency, not secrecy.