“Government officials should not automatically close a meeting or deny a record simply because a legal exemption allows them to; openness should be the default setting.” (Peninsula Gateway, Jan. 6)
Gig Harbor City Council member Ken Malich took his oath on Jan 11. One of his campaign points was the need for better transparency in Gig Harbor government and better public noticing. His voter pamphlet read, “Too often decisions are made before the public becomes aware of the implications.”
Gig Harbor has transparency issues.
No. 1: Gig Harbor has a secret subcommittee called the Harbor Element. The council directed this subcommittee to discuss rezoning Harborview Dr., downtown and housing density. There are no recordings made of these committee meetings and the public is barred from attending.
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Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor learned of these secret meetings and made a public comment at the September City Council meeting. We asked each of the council members if they would support having this subcommittee be recorded and opened to the public. Council members Kadzik, Payne, Lovrovich, Perrow, Ekberg and Arbenz declined to support opening these meetings to the public.
Council member Malich was very concerned that the public is blocked from these meetings.
Mayor Jill Guernsey and City Administrator Ron Williams stated this subcommittee was created with the intent to not be open to public involvement.
No. 2: In November, during the Gig Harbor City Council Intergovernmental Affairs Committee meeting, Payne, Perrow and Arbenz voted to ask the Legislature to limit the public’s right to public information and lift the 1 percent property tax cap. Lifting the 1 percent property tax cap provides the opportunity to increase property taxes.
In December, the entire council voted unanimously to ask the Legislature to limit the public’s right to public information and to lift the property tax cap. These items were not listed on the council agenda and nobody had any idea what was being voted for.
There is no transparency if you are unaware. When your property taxes or limiting your right to public information is discussed, it is your business.
No. 3: In 2013 there was a proposed downtown building height amendment. Inadequate noticing left citizens unaware of this proposed amendment. Citizens for Gig Harbor suggested the city erect a sign board in Skansie Park so folks would learn about the meeting. The City of Gig Harbor City refused. Then-Councilwoman Guernsey was asked if the city would put an ad in the Gateway to inform folks of the meeting. She said the ad would be too expensive, and nothing was done.
This proposed amendment resulted in petition of 1,600 Gig Harbor citizens stepping up to say “no” to increased downtown building heights. Only five people wanted taller buildings. Malich was the only council member to vote “no” to tall buildings on the waterfront.
No. 4: Last summer there was a public hearing regarding the traffic gridlock at the Olympic and Pt Fosdick intersection. The city scheduled this hearing for 1:30 p.m., when most people were unable to attend. Public meetings need to occur for the convenience of the public. One might get the impression the majority of the council doesn’t want to be bothered by informed citizens.
Malich stated his goal has always been to listen to the people and have his vote reflect the wishes of the people. That is why he was reelected by a landslide.
In the year 2017, you will see the mayor and council seats of Kadzik, Payne, Ekberg and Arbenz up for re-election.
Citizens will be watching council voting records to see what they will do.
Jeni Woock is head of the Citizens for the Preservation of Gig Harbor.