October 27, 2015

PLF asks Washington Supreme Court to reconsider its decision to allow critical area planning to occur behind closed doors

By Brian T. Hodges Senior Attorney

Earlier this month, the Washington Supreme Court dealt a blow to transparent government when it ruled that a San Juan County committee, which included three of the county’s six-member council members, could meet behind doors to make important decisions regarding its critical areas ordinance update without violating the Open Public Meetings Act. We wrote about the decision here.

On Friday, PLF attorneys filed an amicus brief asking the Court to reconsider its opinion. The brief argues:

In this case of first impression, a majority of the Court interpreted the OPMA to excuse a legislatively-created committee—one tasked with the sole responsibility for “determining content and format of science syntheses, evaluation of regulations and recommendations” and consisting of three members of a six-member county council—from the Act’s open meetings requirements. In reaching that conclusion, the majority opinion failed to acknowledge that the San Juan County Council adopted two resolutions establishing the CAO Implementation team and delegating to it legislative tasks. The opinion also failed to give any significance to the fact that the committee included enough council members to determine the County’s critical areas policy. As construed by the majority, the OPMA operates to perpetuate the very evil it was intended to cure—the opinion creates a roadmap for government bodies to meet behind closed doors to deliberate on matters of public importance. The public deserves a government that operates in the light of day.

Given the strong dissent written by Justice Yu, we are hopeful that the Court will reconsider its decision and allow the public access to San Juan County’s secret critical areas deliberations.

What to read next