For council, elections are the best way out
December 6, 2018
To The Eagle,
Bill Wainwright’s letter, published last week, was intriguing. If, as he claims, three members of the town council coordinated to meet separately with a consultant they subsequently hired, it would appear to constitute a serial meeting in violation of the Open Public Meetings Act. The fact that two other council members were not invited to meet the consultant is good for them (legally speaking) but also underscores the damaging extent to which the mayor fosters an in group, out-group dynamic on the council and the secrecy he covets. Bottom line, deliberations by an elected council (and three makes a quorum in this case) must be done in a forum that is public and duly posted.
Putting aside the murky purchase of a Main St. property, I see two additional legal risks the town faces. First, lawsuits governing open public meetings can be expensive, given that the losing side often gets saddled with legal costs incurred by the winning side. So don’t be surprised if an outside law firm opts to take the town to task for its lack of openness, at great expense to us.
Second, the town seems far afield of standard budgetary practice set by the state to govern the use of public money. Budget workshops should have started in August, budget ordinances should have had at least one reading by this time and budget priorities should have received public vetting in an open meeting. None of this happened. Per The Eagle’s reporting, the staffing issue responsible for the delays appeared back in September, yet no special meeting was called to put a temporary clerk in place to meet budgeting deadlines. That’s malpractice.
We all should be concerned that processes (planning, budgetary) have collapsed, that the council is locked in internecine warfare and that the mayor seems incapable of exerting effective control. These problems have appeared in the context of a community with no major public works projects or other initiatives underway, and at a time when the economy is, relatively speaking, strong. In my experience, the regular work must run smoothly if we’re ever going to tackle extra stuff – say, a major waterfront park project – or face the next recession effectively.
Mass resignations aren’t the answer. Legally, they would let the county commissioners choose the next council – a very bad idea. Elections are the best way out. Folks angry enough with the way Cathlamet is managed, or inspired to champion new initiatives, must run for office. There is no quick fix.