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.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@courierherald.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.courierherald.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 500 words or less.

More in Opinion

The Six Grandfathers, Mount Rushmore, and our national identity

What does it mean when national monuments mean freedom to one group, and oppression to another?

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
What it really means to ‘defund’ police departments

If we want our police to truly implement community policing, then the force should reflect the community.

Cartoon by Frank Shiers
Editorial: Stopping COVID is now up to each of us

With a resurgence threatening, we need to take greater responsibility to keep the virus in check.

A message from Mayor Jan Molinaro

“The best example of encouragement you can give someone for wearing a mask is to wear a mask yourself.”

What, exactly, is tearing America apart? Blindness

Our inability to see across the aisle is what will bring our nation to the brink.

Join me and others in your community in addressing systemic racism

We want our local governments to work on dismantling biased policies to make their communities more equitable.

With leadership, humility can be crucial to success

Humility is a better indicator of intellect than IQ points.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.
Democrats have the edge in WA’s 2020 elections

But a lot of plans were hinged on Inslee not running for a third term.

MLK would not approve of the violent protests

His dream of peace has been taken over by thugs.

Unpaid bills

It’s collection time.

Violence isn’t the way

Pleads for justice fall on deaf ears when violence is involved.

Valley police chiefs of King County release unified message in response to death of George Floyd

Police chiefs of Des Moines, Tukwila, Renton, Federal Way, Kent, Auburn, Algona, Pacific, Black Diamond and the Port of Seattle pledge to stand with communities.