Diminishing transparency in Thurston County government


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

The opinions expressed above are those of the writer and not necessarily those of  The JOLT's staff or board of directors.  You're free to post your response, below.  Otherwise, if you have something to say about a topic of interest to Thurston County residents, send it to us and we’ll most likely publish it. See the Contribute your news button at the top of every page. 


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  • bonaro

    Saying that the County Manager holds a pivotal role in County Government is actually an understatement. That person guides all of the commissioners in their decision making and directly aligns the County policy according to their own personal agenda.

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • pheong

    A bit off-topic but not entirely so.

    The condition of the roadway at the new development at 26th and Sleater-Kinney after utilities were laid smacks of corruption and utter lack of oversight.

    Just who has failed to call for the pavement to be returned to a condition within the rules?

    Friday, February 9 Report this

  • jimlazar

    I'll add another concern. Increasingly, the City Managers and County Manager have been meeting one-on-one with individual members of their elected body. They just "run ideas by them" they say. What they are really doing is holding serial meetings, trying to find what proposal will get the needed votes. The Open Public Meetings Act specifically prohibits these type of serial meetings.

    If the City Manager wants to "run an idea" by the City Council, the place to do that is in open session, with the public in attendance and able to watch remotely.

    I was an opponent of the five-member commissions for the Port and the County, and co-authored the voter's pamphlet statements against them. Jason Long is correct in his analysis.

    Thursday, February 15 Report this