Battle Ground councilors didn't violate public meetings act, city manager says

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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John Williams memo

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The Open Public Meetings Act was passed by state lawmakers in 1971 “as a part of a nationwide effort to make government affairs more accessible and, in theory, more responsive,” according to the Attorney General’s website. Under the OPMA, “A meeting occurs if a quorum (that is, a majority) of the members of the governing body were to discuss or consider, for instance, the budget, personnel, or land use issues no matter where that discussion or consideration might occur.”

Battle Ground City Manager John Williams said an internal investigation did not reveal any evidence that any members of the city council violated the Open Public Meetings Act.

The investigation was prompted by allegations made by Councilors Mike Ciraulo and Adrian Cortes, who accused their colleagues of running afoul of state rules designed to ensure a transparent policy process.

In a Wednesday memo to councilors, Williams wrote that the only “meeting” was when Deputy Mayor Shane Bowman and Councilor Bill Ganley met to prepare draft language of an ordinance that was later given to Williams and City Attorney Brian Wolfe in advance of a regular council meeting.

The ordinance changed how councilors choose the mayor. In July, Cortes was the lone member of the council to vote against it; Ciraulo was absent.

The ordinance says the deputy mayor, elected among councilors, automatically slips into the mayor’s position after two years.

Things heated up last month after Cortes and Ciraulo penned a column for The Reflector, in which they wrote that their colleagues “arbitrarily changed our form of government,” by meeting in private to discuss the change.

To violate state law, however, a majority of the council would have to meet in private.

“In the written statements I received, both Mr. Bowman and Mr. Ganley state that they were the only council members in attendance and that no other council member was consulted or contacted during this meeting,” Williams wrote. “Both further state that the entire meeting was witnessed by Mr. Ganley’s wife.”

Williams wrote that he and Wolfe agreed there’s no need for additional investigation, but he ended the one-page memo with a reminder that councilors need “to be diligent to only conduct city business during the appropriate official meetings.”