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New law requires online agendas

Brewster clerk questions necessity, cost for small town

— A bill requiring most public agencies to post their meeting agendas online a day before their meetings has been signed into law and is drawing mixed reactions locally.

The bill, written by 12th District Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, requires agencies to post their agendas at least 24 hours in advance. It passed in the House 85 to 13 and in the Senate 41 to 6, and was signed last week by Gov. Jay Inslee.

House Bill 2105 is part of Hawkins’ ongoing effort to increase transparency in government, he said.

Many agencies in Okanogan County already put their agendas online, but one that doesn’t is the city of Brewster.

City Clerk Misty Ruiz said the city will begin doing so this month, in advance of the bill’s effective date of June 11, but doesn’t feel it will help with transparency.

“We post all meeting minutes online and we do send our agendas to all of the news entities in our area, as well as posting the meeting notices at our library and at city hall,” she said.

The city has no problem with being open about what it does, but sometimes legislators “lose sight of small communities,” she said, adding the agenda requirement represents “another expense” to the city.

Most people in the community come into City Hall to pay their utility bills and either look at the agenda there or go to their favorite news outlet.

“This is why many of our citizens choose to live in Brewster. There is something special about face-to-face service and information sharing,” she said. “People want to go to one place. This is what people in this community want.”

Besides, “the majority of residents don’t have Internet in their homes,” Ruiz said. “It’s sad we’re all kind of put in this bucket.”

Hawkins said posting agendas online “is important to providing more transparency in government. This legislation will help citizens know what a public agency plans to discuss so they can better determine if an issue is important to them.”

The bill makes what Hawkins calls “a modest change” to the state Open Public Meetings Act.

“Interestingly, the Open Public Meetings Act was first enacted in 1971 and requires public agencies to issue notice of their meetings, such as the date, time and location, but does not speak to posting meeting agendas. My bill is an effort to modernize the law to reflect our current online society.”

The measure provides exceptions for government entities without websites or with fewer than 10 full-time employees.

A sampling of other public agencies in the area indicates most don’t have a problem with the new law.

“This is a good bill,” Okanogan School District Superintendent Richard Johnson said. “By June, the district will begin posting agendas of school board meetings on its website.”

Meeting the law’s requirements won’t be a problem since agendas already are sent to board members at least 24 hours before scheduled meetings.

The district already posts its meeting minutes within 48 hours of the meeting, Johnson said.

“We have always made our agendas available on our website,” Grand Coulee Dam School District Superintendent Dennis Carlson said.

“We moved to paperless board meetings early this school year and it took me a bit of time to figure out the software, but now we are posting a link to our entire board packet so anyone that’s interested can access that and download all the supporting documents in addition to the agenda,” he said.

“We’ve been putting our agendas, minutes and policies on the website for four years now as a means of being transparent,” Oroville School District Superintendent Steve Quick said.

“We have been posting agendas and minutes on our website for a while now,” Tonasket Superintendent Paul Turner said.

The city of Omak already posts its Monday council meeting agendas online by 4 p.m. the previous Friday, City Clerk Kathy Lobdell said.

Similarly, Twisp, Pateros and Oroville already post their agendas online, their clerks said.

“The city of Tonasket has been posting the agenda more than 24 hours prior to a regular meeting for years. No problem here,” Clerk Alice Attwood said.

Okanogan County commissioners and the Okanogan County Public Utility District already post their agendas online in advance of their meetings.

Hawkins said the bill received the support of various newspaper associations and open government advocates.

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