Attorney: Officials didn’t violate law

Boldt, Stuart's presence at meeting raised questions

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Clark County Commissioners Steve Stuart and Marc Boldt did not violate the state’s Open Public Meetings Act last month, according to their attorney.

Chief Civil Deputy Prosecutor Bronson Potter said a Feb. 21 meeting that had not been included on the commissioners’ calendar did not trigger the OPMA’s notification requirement.

Stuart and Boldt attended a meeting at Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler’s Vancouver office.

The meeting included Mayor Tim Leavitt, Washougal Mayor Sean Guard, Battle Ground Mayor Mike Ciraulo, Ridgefield Mayor Ron Onslow and Woodland Mayor Chuck Blum.

The purpose was for local officials to meet with Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and committee member Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa.

The private meeting lasted 45 minutes.

It was prior to a public “listening session” on how the government can better meet the nation’s crumbling infrastructure needs.

More than 250 people showed up to the listening session; approximately half were turned away because the community room at the Clark Public Utilities building was too small.

After The Columbian reported that Stuart and Boldt attended the private meeting in violation of notification laws, Stuart asked Potter to give his opinion.

“The fact that a quorum of the Board is present at the same time and place does not automatically mean that a ‘meeting’ has occurred for the purposes of the OPMA because an ‘action’ must occur to trigger the OPMA,” Potter wrote in a two-page letter to Stuart.

Potter said “action” is defined as the “transaction of official business of a public agency by a governing body including, but not limited to, the receipt of public testimony, deliberations, discussions, considerations, reviews, evaluations and final actions.”

The Columbian’s attorney, Eric Stahl of Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle, said it is difficult to determine whether the gathering counted as a public meeting for the commissioners.

“Without knowing exactly what was discussed at the meeting, I don’t think you can say definitively that the commissioners complied with the OPMA,” Stahl said.

Stuart said after the meeting that Mica, Shuster and Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, wanted to hear concerns over federal regulations, financing and investments.

Leavitt said bridge tolls — a controversial aspect of the Columbia River Crossing project — were mentioned as a local financing option.

Stuart said the meeting did not focus on any specific project, which Potter repeated in his letter.

“Rather, the purpose of the meeting was to receive comments regarding how projects might be accomplished given rising costs and declining revenues,” Potter wrote.

Regardless of whether notice was required, Stuart and Boldt said this week the meeting should have been on their calendar. The county publishes any event where at least two commissioners will show up.

They even list social events; for example, both Boldt and Commissioner Tom Mielke will be attending the American Israel Public Affairs Community Dinner in Portland on Sunday.

Commissioners said the meeting was hastily arranged and that’s why it was not on their calendar, published at http://www.clark.wa.gov/bocc.

Potter wrote in his letter that there’s no reason to discontinue the practice of publishing non-action events.

“Your current practice furthers the OPMA’s policy of open government,” Potter wrote.