The president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government criticized Sammamish’s location for its annual city council retreat Jan. 22-24 at the Suncadia Resort in Roslyn, east of the mountains, an hour and a half away over Snoqualmie Pass.
Toby Nixon, who is also a city councilman in Kirkland, said Sammamish should hold its retreat preferably in the “jurisdiction” so citizens who wish to attend may do so easily.
Sammamish city council member Nancy Whitten unsuccessfully made this argument when the council decided to return to Suncadia, where it’s held its last several retreats.
Aside from being 90 minutes away, winter driving over the Pass can be risky.
Nixon, who for many years has led fights for more open government, including fighting efforts in Olympia to narrow access to public records, said that cities in Washington are allowed to have their retreats anywhere. Counties are required to have their retreats in the county seat.
Retreats are typically used to discuss work plans and policies for the coming year, and in some cases, to try and iron out differences between members of the city council. Sammamish’s city council is split, usually in a 4-3 or 5-2 vote on many issues and tension between council members is obvious at council meetings and in some emails I’ve reviewed.
Nixon says pretty much anything may be discussed at a retreat, and not all topics have to be listed on the agenda.
Not listing all topics means citizen’s don’t have a full picture of what will be discussed at a retreat, further denying them the ability to decide whether to attend. I’ve been told the county’s development of the East Lake Sammamish Trail will be discussed at the Sammamish retreat, but it’s not on the agenda that’s been circulated internally. No agenda is on the city website.
I understand that it’s also possible that the Northeast Sammamish and Sammamish Plateau water and sewer districts and the Eastside Fire & Rescue may be discussed at the retreat, but these aren’t on the agenda, either.
Anything that will be voted upon either has to be on the agenda or voted upon at a later city council meeting with due notice.
Sammamish officials like out-of-jurisdiction retreats for the isolation, making it more difficult for a council member who are less interested bailing from the meeting, an issue in the recent past. The retreats in a distant location do make it less likely that citizens or reporters will attend, however.
Sammamish doesn’t have a hotel or similar location to hold meetings, but Nixon, the Open Government president, says until recently, Kirkland used to hold its retreats at city hall, where they can be televised and recorded.
This year, Kirkland is holding its retreat on Feb. 2o in, of all places, Sammamish, at the Beaver Lake Lodge, something Nixon doesn’t favor–but at least Kirkland residents can easily drive here.
“If they take a bus it would take a day-and-a-half,” Nixon joked.