At this afternoons Regular Meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners, one of the action items was Resolution No. 467 Public Records Requests. Good timing for this subject to come up as maybe clarifying the process would improve it. Ironically, if I want to read a copy, I need to submit a Public Records Request, which, since it passed unanimously and therefore is now a public record, I have done.

But wait for the real zinger!

When opportunity for public comments, I asked for clarification of the resolution and supporting guidelines. Commissioner Fossos expressed some concern and asked me if I was recording the meeting. Yes, I replied and said that I will also be requesting the official recorded meeting when it was available. Next Commissioner Fossos asked that the Chair require me to identify myself, which I did, then Commissioner Fossos requested, and wrote down, my address.

Can you believe this next part?

Commissioner Fossos brought out the big surprise when he suddenly made a motion which basically cloaks all future public meetings from public review. While still in the Public Comment forum of the meeting Commissioner Fossos, apparently now switching to speaking in his capacity as commissioner, made a motion that “Beginning January 1, 2011, all fire chief meetings will no longer be recorded

Excuse me?! Have you ever compared the written minutes to the recorded minutes? Several conversations are ignored and omitted. This from an elected official who promised open government and accountability, indeed has clear and specific rules governing this responsibility. (But then again he did say “all fire chief meetings”, of which I do not believe this afternoons Regular Meeting of the Board of Fire Commissioners was,  so he was too flustered to correctly identify the meeting or maybe he wasn’t actually talking about censoring ‘all future Board of Commissioners meetings’.)

Thankfully, someone on the board thought quick enough to quickly table the motion. Since I had already made one public comment, which swiftly prompted Commissioner Fossos to request essentially closed ‘public’ sessions, I again was granted recognition to inquire if ‘Addressing Section 12, Media recordings’ were also hereby restricted from recording. Commissioner Gates hesitated then replied  “I don’t know yet”. I will give him the benefit of the doubt here, and say he was probably too taken aback by the suddenness of the motion to respond properly. However, taken at face value, does this mean he has to think about it? That he also is considering shutting out the public and the media from obtaining true and accurate transcripts of public proceedings? I sure hope not!

Reprieve

And here is the best part, since the motion was tabled instead of dying as it should have right then and there, the public gets to prepare for the November 18th meeting, at which it will be once again aired and voted on. Who would miss that?

Should mention that, not being sure how these things work, there is a possibility of the Commissioners addressing this issue before the November 18th regular meeting. That is the earliest public meeting scheduled on the calendar as of today, however, they could have a daytime public meeting that I don’t know about yet. If so, then it may be dealt with before the 18th.

Keep checking back here or at their website for updates.

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What is Commissioner Fossos hiding?

So what is Commissioner Fossos afraid of? That because he might blurt out something that he later regrets, the entire district records will turn into a ‘he said’ / ‘she said’ argument? With absolutely NO ACCOUNTABILITY!  No review whatsoever. And if you are not in the room to hear it, they can claim it never happened. Someone calls another person a liar, (strike that) and poof, the allegation disappears. Malign away and don’t get held accountable. Is this what we are coming to?

If you thought there was ever a commissioner that needed close monitoring, Commissioner Fossos proved it this afternoon.

This attitude of secrecy, coupled with his feeling that it is acceptable to take tax payer money for potentially non-official travel, is scary. This really should concern people about his ability to openly and honestly carry out his duties as an elected official. Read the guidelines and follow them. If that is too much to ask, and the pressure is too great, Commissioner Fossos would be doing a great public service to gracefully resign before making a major error of judgment. I, for one, will be watching him very closely.

Facts available from South King Fire & Rescue –

(if you make a Public Records Act Request)

Quoted right from the Board of Commissioners guidelines for the conduct of board meetings, proceedings and business, lets review the role and Guiding principals of the commissioners:

Role of the Board of Fire Commissioners

The role of the Board of Fire Commissioners of South King Fire and Rescue is to establish the policies and budget of the district; provide fiscal controls; provide a conduit to the citizens of the community; and to employ a Fire Chief/Administrator to implement and direct the necessary functions and the adopted strategic plan of the District.

Guiding Principles

Through honest, open and visionary leadership; we, the Board of Fire Commissioners for South King Fire and Rescue, lead by example, hold ourselves accountable and treat each other with dignity and respect. In so going, we embrace and accept change, and commit our resources to provide the highest level of emergency service to the citizens of our community.

We will respect each other and each others opinion; and will support and hold each other accountable by confronting behavior that does not add value to our ability to serve.

And some pertinent excerpts:

Section 2 – Board Meetings

2.8 – The Secretary, or his/her designee, shall record the meeting minutes via a cassette recorder, or other approved system, to assist with accuracy. These recordings shall be maintained for a one (1) year period of time

[I might be wrong, but this appears to be a violation of RCW 40.14.070, which says in part “Official public records shall not be destroyed unless: (i) The records are six or more years old”. So why then does the department allow it to occur in one year?]

Section 12  Media Representation at board meetings

12.1 All public meetings of the board shall be open to the media, freely subject to recording by radio, television and photographic services at any time, provided that such arrangements do not interfere with the orderly conduct of the meeting. Seating space shall be provided for the media at each public meeting.

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Written VS Recorded minutes (What they probably don’t want made public)

By the way, I so far have compared two of the recorded meetings with the ‘official minutes’.

Missing entirely from the August 19 2010 (starts at 17:05) written minutes are comments that Commissioner Freitas made in the second Public Comments session, in which he states “the economic climate is very difficult on fire departments”. He stated that he felt in no way were the people voting against the fire department, but that economic times are tough. He feels the department has a strong team and “we’re all in this together and we’ll work our way out of it”. However, you see not one mention that he said anything in the written minutes.

Doesn’t this qualify as censorship? And how would you have known about it, unless you were there, or listened to the officially recorded records. Or read this blog.

(for the written minutes of any SKF&R commissioners meeting, visit the Elected Governance page)

More to come later

The second tape that I have listened to has some rich and emphatic statements made by another administrative official, speaking as a member of the public, (does that make it different somehow?) during the Public Comment session. Again, an entire 5 minute dialog is intentionally removed and missing from the written record. So, another chapter of public meeting swept under the rug. How convenient. (BTW, I am confident, considering the content, that this dialog would not have occurred if I were at the meeting.) This pretty much absolves anything they say. Does this qualify as censorship?

Folks, these are your elected officials asking for you to trust them. But how can you when they spend your money like it belongs to them and not you? Or when they try to remove transparency and open public discussion.  I am thinking that we have been trusting some of these people for way too long without oversight.

If Commissioner Fossos has his way, kiss open communication goodbye and watch the doors slam shut on these elected officials actions. Not record public hearings, indeed. Shame on you!

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