C-Tran is facing questions after holding an unusual closed-door executive session in the middle of its Tuesday board meeting to discuss the bus rapid transit project that was up for action that night.
The sharpest criticism has come from one of C-Tran’s own board members, Clark County Commissioner David Madore.
The Republican commissioner has gone as far as accusing the agency of violating the state Open Public Meetings Act. C-Tran maintains the executive session was authorized and appropriate under state law.
Tuesday’s meeting included a resolution advancing BRT, an enhanced bus system proposed in Vancouver that has been a source of some controversy. The board stood by the project with a 5-3 vote after more than an hour of public deliberation.
But just before discussing the issue publicly, the board held a 20-minute executive session. C-Tran public affairs manager Jim Quintana said Thursday the closed session centered around a draft memo from legal counsel Tom Wolfendale about BRT. Madore later said the discussion involved financing options for the project.
As justification for the executive session, C-Tran has cited sections of RCW 42.30.110 including potential litigation — “when public knowledge regarding the discussion is likely to result in an adverse legal or financial consequence to the agency.”
Madore made it clear he wasn’t satisfied with that reasoning.
“We’re just acting as if people, if they knew what we were doing, they might sue us. They might find something,” he said. “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.”
Madore has accused C-Tran of violating the state’s public meetings law, and said Tuesday he planned to file a complaint. As of Thursday, that had not happened, Quintana said.
The accusations came during a separate discussion about recent public records requests — including Madore’s — and the resulting legal costs to C-Tran. Other board members were quick to defend the agency and its practices.
“Commissioner Madore, there is no conspiracy here,” said Vancouver City Council member Jack Burkman. “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.”
C-Tran typically places executive sessions at the end of meetings, after the public agenda is complete. On Tuesday, the agency cleared the room immediately after public comment, then brought the audience back in for the evening’s main action item 20 minutes later.
As for BRT financing, the board’s action this week only authorized an additional $200,000 for the $53 million project. C-Tran has said it plans to use at least $6 million out of its own pocket to pay for BRT, and could ask the board to do so this summer. The bulk of the project’s cost is expected to be covered by a federal grant.
In 2012, voters rejected a proposed sales tax increase that would have helped pay for BRT.
A complaint from this week’s meeting wouldn’t be the first dispute for C-Tran involving public disclosure. In March, Wolfendale asked for a court order to block the city of Vancouver from releasing a single email that was errantly forwarded by Mayor Tim Leavitt. The city had planned to release the email as part of a standing records request by The Columbian.
A Clark County judge is expected to rule on the matter next month.