In recent years, Thurston County has witnessed a concerning trend - a steady erosion of transparency within its government. One significant move was the proposal to expand the board of commissioners from three to five members, a seemingly innocent idea presented to voters. However, embedded within this proposal was a subtle shift that allowed commissioners to convene outside the public eye.
Originally, with a three-person commission, a majority required two members, ensuring public meetings for important decisions. The expansion altered this dynamic, enabling two commissioners to meet in subcommittees without the obligation of a public gathering. This maneuver raises questions about the county's commitment to keeping the decision-making process accessible and accountable to its citizens.
Compounding this issue, the county defunded a non-profit organization dedicated to televising commission meetings. While the commissioners argue they can handle this internally with an increased communication staff, there's a stark distinction between communication and genuine transparency. By redirecting this responsibility away from an independent non-profit, the county has created a potential blind spot, leaving citizens in the dark about critical discussions and decisions.
A further cause for concern lies in the recent efforts to hire a new county manager behind closed doors, in contrast to the open processes being used this week by the Port of Olympia in its efforts to hire its new executive director. Interviews conducted in private, executive sessions shielded from public scrutiny, and an extended offer to an unnamed candidate demonstrates a troubling lack of openness. The county manager holds a pivotal role in local government, and the citizens are left without the opportunity to vet or engage with the individual set to lead their community.
In essence, Thurston County's journey towards reduced transparency is multifaceted. From altering commission structures to defunding external oversight and conducting vital hiring processes in private, the county risks alienating its citizens from the decision-making processes that directly impact their lives. Genuine transparency is not merely about communication staff but ensuring that citizens have access to the information and decision-making mechanisms that shape their community's future. It's time for Thurston County to reassess its commitment to transparency and reestablish itself as a beacon of open and accountable governance.
~ Jason Long, Thurston County
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