PORT ANGELES — A meeting with the Lower Elwha Tribal Council and all seven Port Angeles City Council members who will be seated as of Jan. 2 was canceled after two council members bowed out over open-public-meeting concerns and another commitment arose for tribal council Chairwoman Frances Charles.
The meeting, which had been scheduled for Monday, had been planned by City Council member Sissi Bruch, the tribe’s senior planner, in a spirit of collaboration between city and tribal officials, she said.
It was canceled last Thursday.
“It’s sad it’s turning ugly like this,” Bruch said. “It was all done with such a good feeling.”
Kate Dexter, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, Mike French and Jim Moran, all elected in November and slated to take office after being sworn in, were invited, along with City Council members Michael Merideth and Deputy Mayor Cherie Kidd, whose positions were not up for election in November.
Schromen-Wawrin, Dexter, French and Moran will be sworn into office in January, replacing incumbents Patrick Downie, Brad Collins, Dan Gase and Lee Whetham, who had sought re-election.
Bruch, who said she was not going to attend, said the plan was to have a “meet-and-greet” with tribal council members followed by a tour of facilities at the Lower Elwha reservation west of Port Angeles.
Schromen-Wawrin said he was unable to attend because of a prior commitment.
Kidd said in an email to Bruch that she was unable to attend because of a prior commitment but also expressed concerns about the meeting not being public.
“I also have a concern about the appearance of several elected officials meeting together when in January it would not be permissible” without public notice, she said in the email.
Kidd said Saturday she would “absolutely not” have attended, anyway.
“It was legal, but it appeared, according to our policies, that we as council members, we adhere to the Open Public Meetings Act.
“We need to do it in the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law.”
Moran told Bruch in a Dec. 12 email that he would not be attending the get-together.
“I do have some serious concerns about what appears to be a council meeting that is unannounced and not open to the public,” he wrote to her.
Bruch said in a Dec. 11 email to Kidd and Merideth that she expected everyone but Schromen-Wawrin to attend, along with some city department heads.
Schromen-Wawrin said Saturday he would have attended the meeting despite the open-meeting concerns expressed by Kidd and Moran.
“It’s important for us to gather information from other governments and organizations in order to do our jobs well,” he said, adding that the four newly elected council members will meet as a group this week with county Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols.
Bruch had scheduled the meeting with an eye toward the state Open Public Meetings Act, acknowledging in her invitation to the newly elected and holdover council members that tribal council meetings are not open to the press.
“By us going now, we are not imposing our open meetings policy on them,” she said.
Under state open meetings law, which does not apply to the tribe, the public must be given prior notice if a quorum of council members is meeting.
Those meetings must be open to the public unless state law allows them to be closed.
City Attorney Bill Bloor said Thursday that the newly elected council members are not subject to the Open Public Meetings Act until they are sworn in.
“The city does scrupulously adhere to the [Open Public Meetings Act],” he said in a Dec. 13 email to council members.
“For that reason, some members of the public might perceive something improper with four of our council members-elect gathering for an entire afternoon without giving notice and following the other procedures set out in the [Open Public Meetings Act].”
Bruch, who said she is interested in succeeding Downie as mayor, said Thursday that for her, the open-meeting concerns were “a non-issue.”
Charles said Friday that an unexpected meeting in Olympia would prevented her from attending the meeting.
“It’s collaboration and partnership and no different than we’ve done with other organizations,” she said.
Bruch said she still wants a City Council-tribal council meeting to be held in the future.
It will have to be open to the public, Bloor said Friday.
“The tribal council does not have to have open, public meetings, but if we have four or more of our council members that get together for the purpose of at least discussing what may be related to city business, that is a public meeting, and it has to be open to the public,” he said.
Bruch said Thursday she will give a report on the cancellation today at the regular City Council meeting that begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].