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AG’s office: Pierce County exec, council meetings could violate open meeting rules

Post by David Wickert on Jan. 13, 2010 at 11:12 am with 13 Comments »
January 13, 2010 11:12 am

Yesterday I reported that Pierce County Council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, had rejected a proposal by County Executive Pat McCarthy to improve communication between the branches of government.

McCarthy proposed expanding her weekly one-on-one meeting with Bush to include two members of her staff and two other council members. Bush expressed concern that such an arrangement could violate the state Open Meetings Act, which requires government bodies to meet in public.

I asked Tim Ford, open government ombudsman for the state Attorney General’s Office, what he thought.

Ford said it’s difficult to say whether the arrangement would violate the law without knowing the specifics of what would be discussed. If council members discussed business that later required council action, it could violate open meetings requirements, he said.

“It depends on the context and facts of what’s being discussed,” Ford said.

However, Ford also expressed general concern about private meetings among multiple members of a governing body. Sometimes government bodies try to skirt open meeting requirements by having “rolling meetings” in which council members never have an official quorum but discuss public business through a series of small meetings or phone calls.

I’ll keep you posted as the executive and council continue their negotiations.

Leave a comment Comments → 13
  1. jiminycricket says:

    What constitutes “could violate” vs. “does violate?”

    Here’s what I understand: County Executive Pat McCarthy suggested to County Council Chair Roger Bush on 12/18/09 that they expand their weekly one on one meetings to include the following: two additional county council members, two members from county executive’s staff. Additionally, the executive proposed including various county dept. heads i.e. prosecutor, sheriff, superior court presiding judge, assessor-treasurer, auditor, etc…Ms. McCarthy suggested this move to “enhance and improve” communications at all levels of county government. If there’s a hidden agenda here, I’d like someone to point it out! If anything, I see this as an inclusive, transparent, communication format. It encourages constructive back and forth bantering, and most importantly, the brainstorming of ideas, not from just one side, but all sides of county government at every level. This is not some veiled attempt at secrecy, as some would suggest, but simply just a way to improve communication, which can lead to better decision making by everyone, and everyone includes citizens and elected officials alike!

    County Chair Roger Bush, following 24 days of thought and consideration, is ooposed to this. He believes that this format could violate our state’s “Open Meetings Act.” Fair enough! He has suggested that he and McCarthy stay with the status quo i.e. their weekly “one on one” sessions. Obviously, this format has not worked. I’m wondering, with all due respect, why Chairman Bush was not able to think outside the box and come up with an alternative proposal to County Executive McCarthy’s. There’s an old saying: “Two heads are better than one…..” This train of thought supports the intent behind her idea.

    David Wickert posed a question to Open Government Ombudsman Tim Ford from the state Attorney General’s Office about what he thought. Ford replied: “It depends on the context and the facts of what’s being discussed.” It did not say that the format proposed by the executive would “violate” our state’s “Open Meetings Act.” According to Wickert, Ford has a general concern about private meetings because sometimes government bodies try to skirt open meeting requirements by having “rolling meetings” in which council members never have an official quorum but discuss public business through a series of small meetings.

    I for one, do not sense that this is the intent here, and I wholeheartedly give the benefit of the doubt to our executive, council chair and county council members. Both branches have access to legal advice. I have full confidence that the pitfalls expressed by Mr. Ford can be avoided. What are we waiting for? Valuable time, energy and resources are being wasted. A few of our council member’s terms are up shortly. I’m sure that this is not the sort of legacy that any or our esteemed elected officials wish to leave the electorate, that put their faith in them, through their precious vote?

    Time, once it’s gone, is something that we can never get back! Now is the time for our elected officials to problem solve through open, honest and constructive communication, for the greater good of all concerned!

  2. BecauseICARE says:

    JiminyCricket:

    Pat is very simply put prescribing an illegal procedure.

    The Executive branch doesn’t get to tell the legislative branch how to do thier job. The County Council has set up in their Rules & Operations the way that they operate and she needs to learn to work with in them.

    She is overeaching and overstepping by trying to tell the Council how to do their jobs. These secret backroom 3rd party deliberations do not need to be going on. Keep it simple and stay with the traditional methods that have worked with every other county executive for the last 30 years. There are numerous avenues available to her that she is not using- she can call, write an email, submit testimony into the record, go to Councilmembers’ offices, and go to the weekly study session. Yet she does none of this. The council is under no obligation to deliberate these methods with Pat. They certainly do not need to set up a separate process for having a conversation with her.

    Pat is the one wasting time by having this discussion. What is wrong with the tried and true ways to talk to the council? Pat seems to think she can muscle her way into being the 8th council member & the Chair at that. Sorry, sister, it doesn’t work that way. If you’re wanting that job, you ran for the wrong office.
    Pierce County Executive is not code title for Policy & Budget Czar of Pierce County.The council is well equipped to handle their business without Pat trying to run them like little kids. If she was truly concerned about communcations, why did she ambush the councilmembers with her vetoes? Why is the press CC’d on a ‘Happy Holidays’ letter to the council? Why was CM McDonald (along with other councilmembers, I’m sure) reading communications through press releases?

    Pat is not Cesar and she needs to come to grips with it. The greater good is not accomplished with any of her stubborn posturing.

  3. jiminycricket says:

    BecauseIcare:

    You are making a false accusation against Pat McCarthy, our county executive, when you say that she is “prescribing an illegal procedure.” I challenge you to offer the documentation and proof to back up your claim. Your failure to offer such proof tells me, pure, plain and simple, that your motivation is to slander Ms. McCarthy’s good name and standing in our community, through your malicious, false and defamatory statement, that she (McCarthy) “is prescribing an illegal procedure.” I suggest that you do the honorable thing: offer your proof for all to see, or retract.

    You also falsely accuse Ms. McCarthy of telling the council members “how to do their jobs.” How so? Ms. McCarthy has simply suggested some ways to possibly improve the communications between the executive and legislative branches of our county government. The current method, in use for the “past 30 years,” as you claim, is obviously not working, nor is it fostering a constructive, working relationship between all of the parties. You’ve also alluded to some “secret backroom 3rd party deliberations.” Really, do you have some inside knowledge about this that you’d care to share with the rest of us? If not, perhaps you’d like to share this with TNT journalist, David Wickert, whom I’m sure would be duty bound to follow up on such a story. Especially if it had something to do with some “secret backroom 3rd party deliberations.”

    You bring up some vetoes on the part of our executive, and that she “ambushed” the council in doing so. We, very fortunately, have checks and balances in our county government. Our executive has the right to veto, and our council has the right to override a veto when they disagree with the executive. When not abused by either, this often times will provide the impetus for constructive compromise by all parties to reach a fair and equitable agreement on a matter and/or point of contention.

    BecauseIcare, with all due respect to you and your opinions, you come across like a disgruntled county employee or the spouse of someone who lost an election to Ms. McCarthy. You falsely accuse Ms. McCarthy of a “cc” to the press with regard to a “Happy Holidays” letter that she sent to the council. On December 21, 2009, David Wickert, cleared up this matter, and I quote: “Folks, some people have criticized the exec for issuing a press release on this communication proposal before speaking with the council and other elected officials. For the record, this isn’t a press release. It’s an e-mail that she sent to elected officials. I didn’t receive it from anyone in McCarthy’s camp. I got it from one of the elected officials who received it. Then I posted it here.”

    BecauseIcare, here’s what you said back then (December 19, 2009): “She’s (McCarthy) not the queen of Pierce County. She doesn’t get to dictate to anyone in the form of a ‘happy holidays, by the way here’s my latest press release’ letter.” BecauseIcare continued: “She (McCarthy) is an incompetent hack that is still hiding behind her mini-exec staff to try to do her job. 2012 can’t get here soon enough!” This is proof positive that you were wrong then, and you are wrong now. The honorable thing for you to do would be to offer a retraction. Instead, you display a mean and hateful demeanor that would leave one to believe that you have a personal vendetta against Ms. McCarthy.

    What Ms. McCarthy has simply done, is to offer an alternative method of communication to County Council Chairman Roger Bush. And somehow, this is being made into an “illegal activity.” The executive, as a result of a suggestion, is now “running them (council members) like little kids.”

    BecaauseIcare: I hope and pray that our county council does not adopt your attitude. If so, Pierce County government will never be able to get out of its own way, and accomplish anything good and meaningful on behalf of those that they were elected to represent!

    Good grief, one little suggestion of change, to “hopefully improve” communication! Heaven forbid, who’d thought that this would lead us to nuclear annihilation at the county level?

  4. ldozy1234 says:

    Misdirection seems to be the key. I find it interesting that some points keep getting glossed over.
    The Exec. team has had the same opportunity as previous exec’s. – to attend Tuesday Council discussions and meetings , etc. Only with this new exec despite the additional staff members has it apparently been deemed either unimportant or neglected. So IMO to claim willing to correct communication problems when you have not availed yourself of all established options becomes suspiciously part of a game. I have yet to see this issue addressed
    Why did someone on the Council choose to “leak” the Christmas email? Was it to start either problems for the Exec or the Council? Curry favor with the new Exec? Whatever- again, another game.
    Jiminy- we get it… you think McCarthy walks on water. Fine- I honor your right to that stance. But others don’t share that view and you viciously attacking them in the manner you do undermines many of the legitimate points you make. Correct if you will, but man- the tone is not necessary.

  5. ldozy1234 says:

    Addressing the Open Meeting format.
    The solution would be to have it both televised and open to public . Communication is also a problem with the public and any future suggestions to address this should be made open to public inclusion.

  6. jiminycricket says:

    Idozy1234-Your assumption that I believe McCarthy walks on water is both ridiculous and unfounded. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do believe that she has been viciously and unfairly attacked. Ms. McCarthy has been attacked for simply suggesting an alternative communication format. I find this behavior unacceptable and unbecoming, especially from those that serve on the council. It’s cheap, unprofessional, and I will point it out whenever I see it.

    I take exception with you and your claim that I’ve personally attacked those that disagree with me on here. Show me, please, if you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate it. Now yes, I called out BecauseICare. I did not get personal in doing so, I simply reprinted some of their statements on here to refresh their memory about the vicious attacks and false claims that they’ve made against Ms. McCarthy. I also pointed out some lies! I can certainly understand how that might make you feel. All of it is ugly to look at, I agree, but I simply will not sit back and watch. BecauseICare has not come back on here to document their false claims, or to offer a retraction. That’s fine, but at least those reading will learn the true facts. And thank you, I’m glad that you recognize the “legitimate points” that I strive to make on here.

    Let’s not get lost on the most important concern and issue, Idozy. There’s a communication breakdown and the only two that can fix this are the executive and the council. Hopefully with some give and take on both sides, they can fix this and move forward!

  7. jiminycricket says:

    Idozy1234, you took the words right out of my mouth. Yes, televise it, invite the press and the public. The executive’s suggestion with regard to communication calls for more inclusivity i.e. two additional council members, two members from her staff, various county department heads from time to time. With nothing to hide on either side, this should be workable! No doubt that this would not create an issue with regard to our state’s “Open Meetings Act.” What are we waiting for? Let’s get the show on the road!

  8. ldozy1234 says:

    Jiminey
    In the beginning, you also responded to me in the same vein. Thankfully we have moved on to a more civil form of discourse and found some common ground and some we can never agree upon. But we still can present our views civilly. Its one of the few ways discussion can occur…. maybe if we citizens start the trend our govt might follow………………………

  9. jiminycricket says:

    Point well taken, ldozy. You say, “maybe if we citizens start the trend our govt might follow……………………………” We’ve already seen that with County Executive Pat McCarthy! She has taken the high road, and because of this, she gets my respect. No, I don’t always agree with her viewpoints, but I do respect her sincerity and civil approach. I admire her work ethic as well. Can you imagine what she’s had to deal with lately, and all of it between Thanksgiving and the New Year. I’m talking about the senseless murders of five law enforcement officers and the attempted murder of another! Right here in our own Pierce County! Such a tragedy and absolutely yes, our hearts ache for the families and everyone involved. Our entire county government has been shaken to the core by all of this! Before the unspeakable happened, not once, but twice, we already had a full plate of challenges, not only at the county level, but at the national level as well. It’s been tough for most everyone! It’s at times like this that we need to pull together, government leaders and citizens alike. There’s not a better time to do so than right at this very moment! If faced with a concrete wall, we need to break it down and use the remnants as stepping stones to move forward. This is true in both politics and in everyday life. Collectively, there’s nothing that we can’t accomplish together!

  10. BecauseICARE says:

    Seriously? This is a blog forum where you offer opinion. I offer mine and state the way I feel & think. I owe you and no one else any explanation for my thoughts & feelings regarding McCarthy’s mismanagement of Pierce County and the communications between herself and the Council. She is violation the spirit of the Open Meetings Law. There is no reason to have so many elected officials meeting behind closed doors. These are the secret backroom deliberations that would be occurring if McCarthy had her way. All I choose to type on the TNT blog is for Dave Wickert to review, and it is his choice whether or not he’d like to follow up.

    McCarthy is, as I stated previously, the reason why the traditional methods are not working.

    Pat’s vetoes were all a surprise to the council. I do not disagree that this system is in place for a very good reason, rather I was pointing out that Pat’s basic communications skills don’t even extend to a common courtesy with the council. Every other executive has found their way to the 10th floor to talk to the council, and has worked directly with the chair & the council to achieve those goals. Her motivations are that she doesn’t like the leadership and wants to work around that by creating new processes. What is wrong with Pat that she cannot communicate with them?
    Jiminey, clearly you are insinuating that I am CM Bunney’s wife, which I am certainly not. I do not rely on a county official for my paycheck as you do – I do not work for the county, as you clearly do.. So where do you work that you can spend county time blogging on the TNT site?

    Of course I dislike Pat McCarthy. My opinion is until she proves differently that she is incapable of her job requirements. I think the voters, her employers, have a right to expect competence.

    And yes, I have not come back onto the TNT site since I have a job, family, and home to attend to, not to prove you were ‘right’. That comment alone provided me with laughter for a week.

    I’ll retract my comment with an apology to Mr. Wickert about the Happy Holidays letter, and that is all.

  11. jiminycricket says:

    BecauseICare-You entertain me to no end, and I thank you for that. But believe me, I’m laughing at you, and not with you. You obviously were riled enough that you felt as though you had to come back on here and reply back to me. Wow, am I ever impressed and do I feel honored!

    For the record, I do not work for the county, nor have I ever worked for any government entity. What I do for a living is my business, and certainly not yours! I can assure you that it is an honest and very fruitful living. I’m obviously living a happier life than you as I do not hate others, even those I disagree with. I might dislike what a person says or does, but it’s not certainly a reason to hate, as you do. It’s unproductive and negative energy. I mean really, you cheapen your message when you start to personally attack others, whether it be me, or the executive. It also makes you come off as an ignoramus, which I’m sure that you’re not. But by all means, if you think that personally lashing out and attacking others strengthens your position, be my guest.

    Anyway, you might find it helpful to refresh yourself with the TNT’s rules about blogging. If you don’t care to or have the time, just try acting with civility and decorum, and you’ll probably be safe!

    Best wishes to you!

  12. BecauseICARE says:

    Jiminy,

    I certainly ‘hate’ no one. I’m sure you don’t know me well enough to say how negative I supposedly am. Rather I get frustrated by the way I see things being done in pierce county. At any rate, I know I can count on you to be interesting and give me the other side of the coin. And I did come back on because you accused me of several things which I wished to clear up. Certainly not to ‘honor’ you which is laughable.

  13. jiminycricket says:

    BecauseICare: The only thing you cleared up was to admit that you falsely accused Pat McCarthy of issuing a “Press Release” when in fact it was a copy of an email that David Wickert was given by someone on the council. You then used this to rail and lash out against Ms. McCarthy. It was absolutely pathetic!. Then you come on here and apologize to Mr. Wickert, but not Ms. McCarthy, because as you say that you dislike her! When you’re wrong, you’re wrong! An honorable person then does the right thing!

    Pat McCarthy has violated no laws, yet you continue to falsely accuse her of such. She in no way has advocated breaking the “Open Meetings Act.” This is an incorrect assumption and your perception.

    The communication proposal from Ms. McCarthy, if anything, is more inclusive because it includes additional voices and input from others. You, BecauseIcare, make it sound as though that they’ll be in some backroom, smokin’ cigars and making secret deals behind the public’s back! It’s all very hysterical! You, and some on the council are making this whole thing into a “test of wills” and a “power play.” Ms. McCarthy has one simple goal in mind, which is to improve communications. The current system has not worked very well between her and the Council Chair, Roger Bush.

    Sometimes in life we must think outside the box to move forward and make progress. This is what our executive has done! I applaud her for that! Hopefully some common ground can be found so that we all can move ahead in a positive direction.

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