Port Ludlow Drainage District uses speaker phone

Open Public Meetings Act concern prompts possible policy change

PORT LUDLOW — Port Ludlow Drainage District commissioners conducted their first conference call with a speaker phone for the public to be able to listen without calling in.

The state Attorney General’s Office had advised the commissioners that conducting the call-in meetings without a speaker phone could possibly violate the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), but commissioners had planned to do without one until after the issue was presented in a Peninsula Daily News story published Sunday.

The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes. Commission chair Don Forbes called in and commissioner Deborah Helleson was at the speaker phone location at the Bayview Room at the LMC Beach Club, 121 Marina View Drive, Port Ludlow.

The commissioners — two are now on the usually three-member commission — approved the meeting minutes of the Jan. 9 meeting and approved vouchers of $4,204.72.

The speaker phone was added as part of a special meeting notice that said the speaker phone will be available to listen to at the Bayview Room.

“We just wanted it to be streamlined and we believed that we would be OK with just the call-in number based on our attorney’s advice,” said chair Don Forbes.

But it was decided that one commissioner be present with the speaker phone until both are sure there isn’t a threat of violating the OPMA, Forbes said.

“We’re just being extra cautious until we work out what appears to be an ambiguity of the law,” Forbes said.

The next meeting will be at 10 a.m. March 12 through conference call. Community members wanting to listen in can call 848-777-1212 and enter the conference code 37246# to join the calls.

Quarterly in-person meetings, are set for 10 a.m. April 9, July 9 and Oct. 9 this year at the Port Ludlow Fire Hall at 7650 Oak Bay Road, Port Ludlow.

The remaining conference calls are May 14, June 11, Aug. 13, Sept. 10, Nov. 12 and Dec. 10, according to pldd.org.

The issue of the having the speaker phone available is that without it, legal opinions from the state Attorney General’s Office and the Municipal Research Services Corporation (MRSC) had said that the conference calls could be in violation of the OPMA if a speaker phone was not available.

On June 21, Nancy Krier, state assistant attorney general for open government said in an email sent to former commissioner Katie Smith: “In order to attend a meeting of a public body subject to the OPMA, a member of the public needs to only walk in and sit down at the meeting office or other physical location, and then he/she can listen to the discussion.”

In a follow-up email sent July 29, Krier reiterated the need for a speaker phone for the board to remain compliant.

“If a member or members of a governing body subject to the OPMA attends/attend a meeting only remotely, the agency needs to have a speaker phone available in the room at the meeting location,” Krier said.

Smith had contacted the Attorney General’s office and the Municipal Research Services Corporation (MRSC) about the issue. She opted not to run for reelection when her six-year term expired last fall. No one else filed for the seat and it remains open.

More information on the opinions of the different bodies and the debate over the policy of conference calls can be found online.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].

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