Sign up for the Open Government eNewsletter
We warmly welcome your thoughts on og-blog and especially welcome your emails with suggested postings and links to interesting stories and court cases. If you have something to say about open government in Washington State, sending it to og-blog is probably the best way to get it out. Don’t hesitate to contact us at

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

UPDATED II: Smoking Gun: Olympia City Council Emailing Each Other During "Open" Meetings

UPDATE II: The Olympian writes this editorial about the meeting-by-email issue.


An open public meeting is supposed to be ... open and public. What if the usual discussion and deliberation of a city council meeting were not done in the meeting, where the public can see what's going on, but rather via real-time emails between city council members? What if, for example, this private email exchange between council members went on during a public meeting:

"Are you comfortable if I make a motion removing the Kramer property from the moratorium area, and I think I can get (Councilman) Craig (Ottavelli) to second. And, do you support that? We haven't had a chance to talk, but I am ready to do that."

That would violate the Open Public Meetings Act. A "discussion" or "deliberation" of council business must be conducted in an open meeting. (Unless an exception applies allowing an executive session; no one is claiming any of this could have been done in an executive session.) Obviously, while the meeting is going on, the public cannot access the emails between the council members so the email discussions and deliberations are not "open" to the "public." That was the conclusion of the Attorney General's Open Government Ombudsman, Tim Ford. The city council is ignoring his conclusion. (However, the mayor, to his credit, is supporting the AG Ombudsman's conclusion.)

Here is the amazing story about all this from The Olympian. If you care about open government, read this story.

Note this comment from a city council member who thinks this practice is just fine: "I think it's entirely up to each council member how they conduct themselves." Really? Council members get to unilaterally choose how to conduct city business in public meetings? Then why was the Open Public Meetings Act passed? Is this law "optional"? Perhaps the citizens of Olympia, in response to a law requiring them to pay taxes to the city, could say "It's entirely up to each person how they conduct themselves."

UPDATE: The Tacoma News Tribune unleashes this scorcher of an editorial on the Olympia deliberation-by-email case.