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Editorial: Public should have same info as elected officials

Recently, the Port of Grays Harbor decided to open its books to make sure the public has the exact same information that the Port commissioners have before the commissioners make their decisions at their monthly meetings.

The decision came after months and months of me sending public records requests for information on agenda items before the commissioners. For instance, I wanted to know about an issue involving a culvert on Purgatory Creek at the Satsop Business Park. I had also sought information about bidding issues involving an empty warehouse at the business park.

I was curious about an approved contract and the scoping documents involved with a consultant looking at how many jobs the Port actually produces.

These are all items that have been on the Port’s regular agenda, given in reports and produced in memos to the commissioners by staff. All of this information was also contained in white binders that everyone in the Port commission chambers had except the public.

Really, I argued to Port attorney Art Blauvelt who responds to record requests, if the Port had some kind of binder for the public that members of the public could peruse before or at the meetings, then I wouldn’t have to do record requests after the fact. Members of the public — like me — could use their cell phones or a camera to take a picture of the documents right then and there, instead of wasting everyone’s time with a public records request after the fact.

Blauvelt consulted with the rest of the Port staff — and everyone apparently agreed it was a good idea. Thus, the public copy of the “Port Commission Book” was born. Kudos to the port for embracing transparency.

Other jurisdictions around the Harbor also will fill you in on the complete details of their “packets” ahead of time. Packets typically contain reports, memos from department heads, draft resolutions and ordinances and correspondence.

For years, the city of Elma has provided paper copies of their packets before their council meetings. Contact the clerk-treasurer ahead of the meetings if this is of interest to you.

The cities of Montesano and McCleary have entered the “electronic” age. They scan their packets.

The city of McCleary posts its packets on its city website for anyone to see. There’s actually an archive of packets dating back a few years.

To get the packets from Montesano, you need to email City Administrator Kristy Powell at kpowell@montesano.us and ask to be added to their email distribution list. The packets are typically emailed out the Friday before the meeting.

Summit Pacific Medical Center, which is owned by the Public Hospital District No. 1, also emails packets before its meetings. To get added to their distribution list, email shannonb@sp-mc.org.

The Grays Harbor County commissioners will provide any information you’re seeking either before or after their meetings. See something on the agenda that interests you? Just stop by the office and ask for a copy or visit after the commission meetings and someone will help you.

Don’t live in East County? Don’t be afraid to just stop by your local city hall and ask how they distribute information before public meetings. Some will just send out a one-sheet agenda. Others may give you everything they have. My vote is to make sure the people has the same information before them that our elected officials have. Remember, the elected officials work for us. Kudos to the Port for agreeing.

Steven Friederich is editor of The Vidette. Contact him at editor@thevidette.com