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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 |
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.

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