Attorney General Office analysis of law differs from commissioners

PORT ANGELES — Clallam County commissioners were behind closed doors July 13 and Aug. 11 when they decided in executive session to reduce the field of 32 applicants for county administrator to five.

It wasn’t until Aug. 20 that they announced their selections in a news release, with four remaining after one dropped out.

“The narrowing down is part of the evaluation process,” board Chairman Mark Ozias told Peninsula Daily News on Aug. 24, referring to state open meetings law that allows the evaluation of candidates in executive session.

Following inquiries from the PDN about the selection process, Ozias said Friday he’s asked the prosecuting attorney’s office if commissioners should have made those decisions in public.

The state Attorney General’s Office’s June 1, 2016, publication “Washington State Open Public Meetings Act Guidance” states the AG’s view.

“Can a board decide to narrow the applicants to several finalists or a finalist in executive session?” is one of several questions that are asked in the 20-page guide, then answered.

“No, if ‘narrow the applicants’ means a quorum ranks several applicants who will proceed to the next step in the selection process and eliminates other applicants from consideration.

“Balloting on applicants, including on informal proposals (‘action’) as well as ‘final actions’ (a vote or development of a consensus), and straw votes, are not permitted in executive session.”

Nancy Krier, assistant attorney general for open government, said Monday in an email that the guidance document is not an Attorney General’s Office opinion or legal advice.

“It does not bind any agency, but it does provide some analysis that may be of interest and/or useful,” Krier said.

Ozias has asked the county prosecuting attorney’s office “if we did something wrong, but I don’t believe that is the case,” he said Friday.

“If we are told we did something incorrect or contrary to the Open Public Meetings Act, then we will work to take corrective action.”

Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Alvarez said last week he does not believe the process violated the law.

Alvarez doesn’t believe the information provided by the Attorney General’s Office is “necessarily correct,” he said.

“[The commissioners] could do it in public session and fix it all,” he added.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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