In Our View: Wary of This Watchdog

Openness should be goal, but Madore complaint seems hypocritical

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If David Madore does, indeed, have evidence that the C-Tran board violated the state Open Meetings Act, by all means he should file a complaint. That’s what the county commissioner — and C-Tran board member — said he intended to do, but as of this week no complaint had been filed. As of this week, we have nothing but rhetoric that smacks of desperation on the part of Madore.

Some background: On April 7, the C-Tran board held an unusual closed-door executive session in the middle of its regular board meeting — a meeting at which it approved spending $200,000 to move forward on a Bus Rapid Transit project. Officials later cited sections of RCW 42.30.110 as justification for the meeting, which allows for executive session “when public knowledge regarding the discussion is likely to result in an adverse legal or financial consequence to the agency.” Madore accused the board of violating open-meeting law and said: “We’re just acting as if people, if they knew what we were doing, they might sue us. They might find something. Well, that’s what the Open Public Meetings Act, and that’s what the Public Records Act is supposed to do: hold us all accountable.”

Cynics might be quick to point out that Madore’s protests are hypocritical. He led the charge to hire an unqualified Don Benton to a county job in the most opaque of fashions, and he is working in a clandestine manner on trying to build a third interstate bridge in the area. Openness has not been one of the hallmarks of his governing style.

But Madore is wise to at least raise the discussion about the process in this case; extremism in the defense of open government is no vice. As journalist Daniel Schorr is credited with saying: “I have no doubt that the nation has suffered more from undue secrecy than from undue disclosure. The government takes good care of itself.”

The C-Tran board most likely was acting properly in holding a closed-door executive session; the board typically engages in such discussions at the end of meetings, after the business of the day has been completed. During the discussion over BRT, board members opted to clear the room following public comment, discuss the matter in question, and then welcome the public back some 20 minutes later. In response to Madore’s accusations, Jack Burkman, a Vancouver City Council member and C-Tran board member, said, “Commissioner Madore, there is no conspiracy here. I understand that you believe that. You’ve been very clear about that on your Facebook page and elsewhere that there is a conspiracy to hide the information of this body from the public. There is not.”

Yet when it comes to openness in government, avoiding the appearance of impropriety often is as important as avoiding impropriety itself — and C-Tran has had questions raised about openness in the past. Last month, the organization asked for a court order to block the city of Vancouver from releasing an email that was errantly forwarded by Mayor Tim Leavitt; that request is pending in court.

As for Madore, his accusations might carry more weight if he had avoided a well-earned reputation as The Boy Who Cried Wolf. He has engaged in public spitting matches with organizations as diverse as the Humane Society of Southwest Washington, the city of Vancouver, the Chamber of Commerce, The Columbian, the Columbia River Economic Development Council . . . the list goes on. Madore’s effectiveness as a watchdog for the public interest would increase if he would learn to choose his battles — and to file a complaint when warranted.