After calls from the public for greater transparency, elected leaders from the city of Tacoma and its port will start meeting regularly.
But the meetings will be closed to the public.
Only a couple from each elected body will join the meetings, which will allow the group to meet behind closed doors, Mayor Marilyn Strickland said during a Tuesday meeting.
Closed meetings will allow port commissioners and City Council members to “air grievances and have frank conversations” without the public watching on. The glare of the spotlight can prevent people from speaking their minds, Strickland said.
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“We are not behind the scenes hatching some dastardly plan,” Strickland said during a joint meeting of the Tacoma City Council and the Port of Tacoma commission.
Tuesday’s meeting included presentations on items of mutual interest: transportation projects, an overview of the Tideflats industrial sector, a port project to remove more tractor-trailers from state Route 509 and into a truck-queuing yard and an overview of demands on Tacoma Water’s system.
“The working group will be a private conversation. The intent is to share something publicly” later, Port of Tacoma CEO John Wolfe said after the meeting.
Wolfe said since the working group will not make decisions for the port or the city, and since there will not be a quorum of either body in the room, the meetings are allowed to remain private.
He’s right. Last year the state Supreme Court ruled that meetings with fewer than a quorum of San Juan County council members did not violate the state’s open meetings laws since they did not make a decision on the council’s behalf.
State open meetings law says a quorum of those on the same elected body must have public meetings if they are discussing city business. A suite of exemptions allow closed-door meetings when a quorum is present.
Port commissioners have vowed to be more open in recent weeks. Last week Don Meyer said perhaps the port needs to exceed state requirements for notification as large industrial projects are planned at the port.
At port commission meetings, Port of Tacoma Commission President Connie Bacon has said “we hear you” when members of the public criticized the port for what they said was an opaque process in siting a methanol plant that eventually canceled its plans.
There is no start date for the working group, though Strickland said she expects them to meet after the port commission kicks off its strategic planning process sometime in July. It will be the port’s first update to the plan since it partnered with the Port of Seattle to form the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
Strickland also wants the port and the city to align their strategic plans. Tacoma completed it last year, called Tacoma 2025.
“There was no discussion about who aligns with who,” Bacon said after the meeting. “There may be some things that don’t align.”
Strickland also wants to see how the port and city can better notify residents when large industrial projects come into play. That conversation, too, will be held behind closed doors.