Editorial | Get elected, lose a bit of freedom | Rich Elfers

I was elected to the Enumclaw City Council in November 2008. In January 2009 I attended a workshop for newly elected officials workshop where I was trained in the art of being a good public servant.

  • by
  • Tuesday, May 8, 2012 4:52pm
  • Opinion

I was elected to the Enumclaw City Council in November 2008. In January 2009 I attended a workshop for newly elected officials workshop where I was trained in the art of being a good public servant.  Very early in the presentations, I was surprised to learn from the attorney instructing us that now that the voting was done, I, the winner, had just lost several freedoms I had taken for granted.

One of the first freedoms I lost is that I could no longer legally meet with, call, or write emails to more than two other city council members and carry on a conversation without being in violation of the open meetings law.  To do so meant that we had created a quorum and were actually carrying on government business away from the eyes of the public.  I also found out I couldn’t create a chain letter or series of phone calls either. For instance, I couldn’t talk to Jeff, who might call Kevin, who then talked to Mike about an issue before the Council.

I had to be very careful not to send a group email to the entire council without warning them not to reply lest we be in violation of the law. I could not speak or comment if I went to an open house for library annexation if there were three or more other council members present. To do so would constitute a council conversation and would therefore be in violation of the law.

A second thing that I found later in my term is that every email I wrote about city business had to be written with the thought in mind that what I wrote could be published and used against me in any future campaign or could be the basis of a lawsuit.  One veteran council member gave me the good advice to ask myself before I hit the “send” key whether I was willing to see what I had just written in a newspaper. Sometimes it was better to not to reply than to find my words embarrassing me in the media.

When I was sitting in council meetings I found I needed to think through very carefully what I was going to say before I said it because the programs were being broadcast to the viewing public and a thoughtless remark might elicit a caustic reply from our constituents or political pain in the next election.

If we had an executive session I was told we could not share what had been discussed or we would be in violation of the law.  If a reporter asked me a question about it, I’d have to tell him I couldn’t legally respond. When I was interviewed about a city issue by the media, I had to carefully weigh my words—to be very tactful, because my words could be quoted.

I also had to be very sure that I followed all the laws of the city, including getting a cat license each year and making sure I was listed for notification if our renter did not pay their utility bill. I had to set the example.

Was it worth it to lose all those freedoms? Absolutely! I really enjoyed myself trying to decide the best course of action for the city. It requires a lot of work and struggle and research; many of the issues are very complex. It was my privilege to give up a measure of freedom to serve the greater good.

More in Opinion

As times turn uncertain, many will turn toward authoritarianism

It’s a trend both Republicans and Democrats follow.

This guy knows his vocation

Morgan DeKight can make a heck of a drink.

All life is sacred

Human Life of Enumclaw wants to elevate all human life, no matter how small.

Thank you all for your kindness.

Every contribution, from well wishes to food, helped tremendously.

The Cole Street Brewery

The city brewery will be opening a new location soon.

New ‘Public Charge’ rule threatens community health | Public Health Insider

Nutrition programs, medicaid health services for pregnant women and children, and school breakfast and lunch programs are not affected by the rule change.

Elfers’ opinion on Trump saga are based on fact

Don’t make assertions you can’t back up.

Support AVID, vote ‘yes’ on White River district levy

AVID and other programs rely on taxpayer money to give students the best possible education.

Confirmation bias in the impeachment proceedings

Don’t ignore the evidence just because you support the president.

Support Enumclaw School District’s tech levy

Having access to technology greatly improves my education.

Vote ‘no’ on Enumclaw School District’s tech levy

The district has enough money — don’t give them more.

All should be free to express their opinion

A newspaper shouldn’t censor.