June 25, 2008 · Updated 9:35 PM
"Keep the public's meetings openSouth Whidbey School Board Chairman Jim Adsley made a positive contribution to the community last week be insisting that discussion of a personnel issue be conducted in public. The state Open Public Meetings Act requires, in part, that deliberations be conducted openly . . . so that people may maintain control over the instruments they have created. The act then goes on to create loopholes big enough to fly a 747 through, but the spirit of the act remains constant -- that all actions of public agencies be conducted in public. Not just the vote, but also the deliberations behind those votes. Adsley's insistence resulted in an informative discussion of the school district's overload policy, in which teachers are sometimes given extra work to fill in for those who resign. For the school district, this is sometimes easier than hiring a new employee for part of a year. Yet this additional work can come at the expense of students because it makes it more difficult to see their teachers who are now working all day long, rather than having a prep period to meet with students who need help. There were no right of wrong answers to this question, and the board was correct to leave the final decision in the hands of the principal and superintendent. After all, it's their job to understand the details of each situation and do the right thing. Nevertheless, the discussion was illuminating and resulted in a story in this newspaper that many people read and thought about. Had the subject been discussed in executive (private) session, the public would have been entirely in the dark concerning this issue. Because limited closed sessions are allowed by the Open Public Meetings Act, it's an all-too-human temptation for people behind closed doors to exceed the proper bounds of the discussion and let it range to other topics that should be addressed publicly. The school board is probably guilty of occasionally violating the spirit of Open Meetings Act, as is every other public body in Washington State. That's because there's nobody to enforce it except themselves. Few of us would always obey the speed limit if it were self-enforcing. Essentially, the public depends on each elected official to understand the Open Public Meetings Act and work in good faith to see that its spirit is closely adhered to behind closed doors. Elected officials recently complained in this newspaper that few people attend public meetings. Could it be that's because little of interest is being discussed in public? The school board chairman set a good example last week by showing that he cares about conducting the school district's business in public. Other elected officials should study the Open Public Meetings Act and follow his lead. Passenger-only deserves a lookA close look should be taken at the possibility of providing passenger-only ferry service for Whidbey Island residents when the Mukilteo dock is closed for repairs for several weeks beginning next September. Comments to date by ferry officials downplay the passenger-ferry option as too expensive, with estimates ranging above several hundred thousand dollars. Exactly how this exorbitantly high cost was arrived at is unclear, as the Port of South Whidbey already has a suitable docking facility on the Clinton side. Surely an inexpensive arrangement could be made at an existing dock in Mukilteo to drop off passengers for only a few weeks. The one in front of Ivar's comes to mind, or perhaps at the Mukilteo State Park boat launch. Whidbey Islanders shouldn't wait for State Ferries to come up with a cost-effective idea -- it's not something they're known for. Perhaps the Port District could take the lead with help from the Whidbey Island Transportation Association which still boasts a few members who helped arrange passenger-only service during ferry labor disputes 20 years ago. Taking a ferry to Edmonds will be an extreme inconvenience for hundreds of islanders who hop a bus to work or school from Mukilteo. If at all possible, they should be given a passenger-only ferry option. "