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Update | City of Enumclaw cancels special meeting after possible Open Public Meetings Act violation | Read Letters

The city of Enumclaw cancelled a special meeting requested by a majority of the City Council after it came to light a council member appears to have violated the state Open Public Meetings Act according to the city attorney.

Multiple sources have confirmed Councilman Darrel Dickson contacted each council member individually, seeking to call a special meeting concerning the proposed King County purchase of a conservation easement for the White River Forest east of Enumclaw.

A response for Darrel Dickson was sent from Rob Dickson Thursday, which is attached in the body of this story below the city attorney letter.

A letter from City Attorney Mike Reynolds to City Administrator Mike Thomas stated, "Upon inquiry I learned that the meeting was requested by a majority of Council by a Councilman circulating a writing to each member, having a discussion, having the member execute the request for the meeting and then ultimately delivering that request to our City Clerk…. I believe that the method in which this was carried out is arguably a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA)."

The Rob Dickson letter stated, "Councilman Dickson in no way meant to limit the transparency of his actions or the decisions of the City Council, nor did he seek to form a consensus or coordinate a strategy prior to the meeting. Enumclaw’s city code 2.04.015 authorizes special meetings to be called by the “mayor or any three members of the council.”  Councilman Dickson was merely attempting to setup a meeting to discuss this sensitive issue and believed he was acting under not only the letter, but spirit of the law."

The city attorney advised the special meeting be cancelled or voided.

"In conclusion the prudent course of action is determine that the request by Council under 42.30.80 is void as a violation of the OPMA," Reynolds wrote. "However, the Mayor, as presiding officer, may request such a meeting and, in my understanding, with this determination, has requested such a meeting."

Mayor Liz Reynolds did call another special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Friday at City Hall. The lone agenda item is "Review of letter to King County regarding recreational access to the White River Forest."

The Friday meeting will be shown live on ECTV, channel 21.

 

City Attorney Mike Reynolds letter to City Administrator Mike Thomas:

Mike:

On April 17, 2013 I was made aware of a Special Meeting of the City Council to be held at 6:30 p.m. on April 19, 2013.  Upon inquiry I learned that the meeting was requested by a majority of Council by a Councilman circulating a writing to each member, having a discussion, having the member execute the request for the meeting and then ultimatley delivering that request to our City Clerk.

Pursuant to RCW 42.30.080 either of the presiding officer, being the Mayor, or the majority of members of Council, being 4 or more, may request a Special Meeting.

I believe that the method in which this was carried out is arguably a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).  Reference is made to the publication generated by Municipal Research and Service Center entitled "The Open Public Meetings Act" where the activity, as undertaken here, could be considered as a "telephone tree".  Specifically there was a gathering of a quorum and action was taken in that the action was requesting the Special Meeting.

I am mindful of the opinion taken by Municipal Research and Service Center set forth on June 5, 2012 by Bob Meinig.  Specifically there has been no case exactly on point.  In Bob's analysis, he felt that the legislative body must have meant that a majority could request a meeting outside of the OPMA however, arguably, I differ from that opinion in that I believe the intent of the language in 42.30.080 would be such action would be taken during a Council meeting, which many times in the past has occurred where a member moves for a Special Meeting, seconded and voted on by the majority.  All other times, outside of an Open Meeting, the calling of the Special Meeting is done by the Mayor.  A Councilman who desires a Special Meeting can easily do it by contacting the Mayor and requesting a Special Meeting, or, if the Councilmember desires to use the "majority" language as set forth in 42.30.080 they could do it, as the opinion of June 5, 2012 indicates by the Councilman contacting the City Clerk and the City Clerk would then contact the other Councilmen to determine if a quorum voted for such action.  Of concern in the case and facts before us is that the Councilman went personally to each Council member and the discussion appears to vary with each member.

In further analysis, under cost benefit, the prudent action would be to determine that the action taken is void as a violation of the OPMA.  There would be no monetary penalty arguably for his decision.  If the decision is made that the action in setting the meeting is a violation of the OPMA and the meeting is held the individual members may be subject to sanctions.

In conclusion the prudent course of action is determine that the request by Council under 42.30.80 is void as a violation of the OPMA.

However, the Mayor, as presiding officer, may request such a meeting and, in my understanding, with this determination, has requested such a meeting.

Therefore, the Special Meeting of April 19, 2013 at 6:30 p.m. will be held because it was called by the presiding officer.

With reference to certain conduct undertaken there are concerns with respect to the possibility of ethical violations, however, such concerns are not subject of this memorandum.

 

Michael J. Reynolds

Reynolds Burton Attorneys

1219 Cole Street

Enumclaw, WA  98022

 

A response to an issue regarding Enumclaw’s special meeting from Rob Dickson

 

King County recently purchased development rights for over 42,000 acres abutting the City of Enumclaw.  Over the years, residents of Enumclaw have enjoyed recreational access throughout this forest, however, no provision in this new purchase agreement preserves this access.  Potentially losing the right to hike, camp, fish, or explore within this area (activities which have been enjoyed for decades by residents of Enumclaw) damages the City and its economy.  Councilman Darrel Dickson sought to call a special meeting to discuss this issue and determine whether the City should propose an amendment to the purchase agreement aiming to preserve continued recreational access by the public.  To arrange the meeting, Councilman Dickson reached out to other councilmembers individually, asking if they would be willing to call a special meeting to discuss this issue.  Five members of the Council agreed that a special meeting was necessary.

After arranging the meeting, Councilman Dickson was informed that the procedure in which he sought to call the special meeting may have violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA).  A letter was generated by City Attorney Mike Reynolds in which the allegations were detailed with more specificity.  City Attorney Reynolds accuses Councilman Dickson with violating RCW 42.30.080 which controls how special meetings for city councils are to be called.  Though these specific terms are not contained in the code or statute, it is generally accepted that acts by municipalities cannot be accomplished through “rolling meetings” or “telephone trees.”  These types of meetings occur when small groups of councilmembers (or one councilmember approaching other councilmembers one after another) communicate to each other outside the view of the public in an effort to coordinate an action or position.

Councilman Dickson in no way meant to limit the transparency of his actions or the decisions of the City Council, nor did he seek to form a consensus or coordinate a strategy prior to the meeting.  Enumclaw’s city code 2.04.015 authorizes special meetings to be called by the “mayor or any three members of the council.”  Councilman Dickson was merely attempting to setup a meeting to discuss this sensitive issue and believed he was acting under not only the letter, but spirit of the law.

 

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