PORT TOWNSEND — There are many definitions of what a government does and how it should serve the public, but Jefferson County Public Utility District Commissioner Wayne King’s explanation resonated the most with many people at a forum for open government Wednesday night.
King raised a pocket copy of the Constitution in the air and told the crowd of close to 100 in the Port Townsend High School auditorium how he governs in his position.
“My mother gave this to me when I was first elected,” said King, who took office in 2001.
“She told me to read it, and to live by it.”
When his words were greeted with applause, King told the crowd that he didn’t need to hear any clapping on his account — he was just doing his job.
King was one of four panelists who gave an extended lesson in the operations and history of open public government during the forum.
King, president of the PUD board, was joined by Washington Coalition for Open Government President Toby Nixon, a former state representative; Assistant State Attorney General Timothy D. Ford, and State Archivist Jerry Handfield.
The event is part of the coalition’s efforts to spread knowledge across the state about open governance.
State Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, was scheduled to attend, but canceled because of legislative work, event organizers said.
The state Legislature will convene in January. Kessler is House majority leader and represents the 24th District, which covers Jefferson, Clallam and part of Grays Harbor counties.
As the only Jefferson County elected official to speak, King told how the PUD board operates.
Records on Internet
“At this time, the PUD is in the process of getting all of our records on the Internet,” King said.
“We believe in giving anything away that people need.
“[Not all of it because] we are involved in a lawsuit, but we do want all our information to eventually be available on the Web site.”
King said his board continues to be in confidential discussions with Puget Sound Energy regarding possibly taking over as the electricity provider in Jefferson County.
He said that while he wished he could release information, he reminded people that the PSE is a private company not bound by public record laws.
Also, King cautioned that it would take time to replace Dana Roberts, who was just finishing a six-year term when he died in November, but he vowed transparency about the process of appointing a new commissioner.
Addressing broader topics, King also said he supported a proposal to record executive sessions, saying any worries about recordings being used in courts should be a nonissue.
“If you’re worried about that in executive session, then you shouldn’t be entering it,” he said.
“This is where people forget who they work for.
“We work for the people”
Other speakers talked about government rules on state and national levels.
Nixon told about the Washington Coalition for Open Government.
“The point I want to make here is there have been a lot of changes, and the way the laws have been interpreted . . . have typically been case law,” Nixon said.
“A lot of the significant issues [undertaken by] the coalition is trying to undo some of the flawed interpretations.”
Protect, expand access
Nixon said that the coalition had opposed and supported different bills in the Legislature to help protect and expand public access.
“The public meetings act, the public records act, are all a part of the web of trust,” he said.
“They let us know that the people in public office are serving in our interest.”
Ford told people of his availability to the public as a member of the state Attorney General’s Office.
Ford serves as a public ombudsmen to the public to help them get more access to government and often attempts to bridge gaps in relations between local governments and citizens.
“I get hundreds of requests from the public for advice in deciphering the public records and public meetings act each year,” he said.
“I really love this job, because access to government is a very American thing.
“If you can get access to government you can hold your government accountable.”
Handfield said that the state archivist’s office is putting all of its information into digital formats.
“We keep electronic records so they aren’t lost, so that in 100 years or 200 years you still have access.”
For more information about the Washington Coalition for Open Government, see www.washingtoncog.org.
To contact Ford, phone 360-586-4802.
Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]