Washougal Mayor Sean Guard went public last week with concerns that the City Council may have violated the state’s open public-meetings law.
On Monday, Guard took to Facebook to ask residents of the Clark County city and other community members if they were comfortable with the council members discussing just about anything they want at meetings that hardly anyone attends. The beginning of Guard’s post reads: “Would it concern you if your city council was holding regular ‘special meetings,’ sometimes away from city hall, where a majority of them could talk about anything they wanted to, basically in private?”
Guard was referring to the council’s ad hoc budget committee, a relatively new committee consisting of all seven councilors. They created the committee early this year, to hold meetings about budget-related issues.
According to the committee’s rules, its discussions must focus only on the budget.
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But Guard says talks at a recent meeting strayed beyond those boundaries when the councilors discussed shifting committee appointments after the city recently welcomed new Councilor Michelle Wagner to the mix.
Guard says he and Councilor Paul Greenlee disagree over whether the discussion crossed the line. Greenlee didn’t respond to requests for comment.
The budget committee meets Fridays at the Port of Camas-Washougal offices. It doesn’t always have a quorum — four councilors — but when it does, the committee is subject to the open public-meetings law.
That means the committee must put out advance public notice of all such meetings and submit notes from the meetings to the city clerk afterward.
Guard says it appears the committee has held at least two meetings without any notice and that the city is still waiting for Greenlee to provide notes from the most recent one.
Not everyone on the council was happy with Guard’s decision to take his concerns to the public. But Guard said efforts to keep the issue in-house went nowhere.
“If I really thought that another email or phone call that went unanswered would have solved this problem, I probably would’ve gone that direction, but obviously those things aren’t happening,” he said.
If the committee did violate the law, Guard said he will have to consider reporting it to the state Auditor’s Office. What happened at the meeting should be more clear in the coming week, he said.
“Right now, we’re kind of trying to figure out what all has happened,” Guard said. “We’re not sure that we truly have a good picture, since this is a committee that wants to meet without the mayor present and without staff present.”