When should the public be involved in a public project? Early and often. There is no appropriate time to obstruct the people's participation in the people's work.That basic principle either escaped the understanding of Columbia River Crossing officials in 2005, or they intentionally circumvented it. Either way, this week's report by Vancouver forensic accountant Tiffany Couch is troubling. A preliminary Project Sponsors Council was formed seven years ago by the two states' transportation departments, and a memo found by Couch noted: "The decision meetings would be open to the public, but only minimum legal notices would be provided and no display advertising would be place. We would not encourage public participation." Why not? What was there to fear?
Former Clark County Commissioner Betty Sue Morris, who served on the original council, said the "decisions were not actually made there," but note the first three words in the quote from the memo: "The decision meetings."
The current Project Sponsors Council was formed in 2008, representing eight agencies. Agendas and meeting materials are on the CRC website. But that doesn't make up for hush-hush tactics of the previous council, which Couch correctly stipulates now "warrant further investigation."
The CRC has enough problems already, what with a disputed bridge height and funding uncertainties, to go inventing new problems. And whenever there is doubt about public involvement, there is only one solution: Maximize it. The 2005 memo's "We would not encourage public participation" undermines CRC claims to the contrary.