Monday, March 25, 2013
Walla Walla City Council members have an obligation to their constituents to attend Council meetings. By state law, members with three consecutive unexcused absences are required to be removed from office.
That would seem to be straightforward and simple. Yet, it hasn’t been.
That’s because the Council is focused on the actions of a single member to set public policy.
Council member Shane Laib missed several meetings since taking a temporary job in Olympia with a senator during the legislative session.
The underlying concern seems to be whether a Council member can serve the public while holding an out-of-town job for an extended period of time.
Now, to be clear, we don’t think working out of town for four or five months is a particularly good idea for Council members.
But if Laib doesn’t want to resign, it’s up to voters to decide if he is representing them well.
The matter was discussed at a recent Council meeting — attended by Laib but missed by Council member Conrado Cavazos. The Council affirmed in a 5-1 vote its support of state law requiring dismissal of a member after three unexecused absences. Laib was the lone dissenting vote.
But a proposal to establish the only excusable reason for missing a meeting (attending to other Council business) was not approved. The Council members split 3-3. The measure, ironically, was not approved or defeated because of Cavazos’ absence.
Clarity is always a positive, so it’s unfortunate the policy (albeit a rather thin one) was not approved.
Perhaps the issue will soon be moot.
Laib, in an email exchange with the Union-Bulletin, indicated his “intent is to be at as many (meetings) as possible.” He added that if he is not in town for a committee meeting he would participate via phone or the Internent.
Laib, however, said he has no plans to use technology to attend the regular Council meetings that take place on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month.
It was a citizen who suggested that option at the Council meeting, but the Council did not seem inclined to go in that direction. That’s for the best.
Telecommuting has its place but being at a meeting in person enhances the overall experience. It’s easier, for example, to read the mood of a crowd.
The state Attorney General’s Office said using technology to participate in public meetings appears to be legal. The issue is not addressed in the Open Public Meetings Act adopted in 1971. Since it isn’t prohibited, it is considered legal until court or legislative action addresses the issue.
Laib’s plan of traveling between Olympia and Walla Walla may or may not be acceptable to the public.
But since Laib’s Council position is on the ballot in November voters will have an opportunity to decide.