The Sammamish City Council is considering live webcast streaming of its annual retreat, a move that may be a first among governments in the great Seattle region.
The retreat will begin Thursday night with a 6pm dinner and continue to noon Saturday. It’s at the Murano Hotel in Tacoma.
The Murano is about an hour’s drive from Sammamish in normal rush hour traffic. Tacoma was chosen for the second year in a row in lieu of the City’s historic location at the Suncadia Resort in Roslyn, east of the Cascades. The driving time is about the same, provided there aren’t any snow issues or closures over Snoqualmie Pass.
Council Member Christie Malchow proposed the live webcast. City Manager Lyman Howard opposed the idea, reflecting an opinion from the facilitator hired for the retreat.
Council Members Ramiro Valderrama and Tom Hornish strongly supported Malchow. Members Tom Odell, Kathy Huckabay and Bob Keller gave general support, with some reservations or questions. Huckabay and Keller expressed support for taping the meeting rather than broadcasting it live.
Odell expressed general support but also some reservations.
Why do it
“I want to try it with the caveat it may not work,” Malchow said. She noted that the hotel wi-fi may not support live streaming. “But Tacoma is still inconvenient to drive to. I’m hearing from people who would like to go. People want to get more involved. They don’t know how to get more involved. This is a great way for somebody who is working on a Friday, who can’t drive down” to the meeting.
Malchow said webcasting the retreat would make it easy for a citizen to watch on a computer at home.
“I think it’s a great way to try and involve [citizens],” she said. “I don’t know if any other jurisdiction has tried to broadcast their retreats to residents, but I think it’s a good thing to do. It’s transparent. It’s a good thing to do because we’re setting our agenda for the year. It allows our residents to listen in on the conversation.”
“I don’t care what others have done,” said Hornish. “I think we should be a thought leader and try it.”
Setting goals and transparency
The retreat is where the City Council sets its goals for the year and in the case of some issues, such as transportation, for the next several years.
At this writing, the agenda for the retreat hasn’t been published. But creating a Transportation Management Plan—the first for Sammamish—is one topic already announced.
The East Lake Sammamish Trail, stormwater drainage through the Tamarack subdivision, budget issues and long-range visions will likely also be on the agenda.
(Sammamish Comment will be present all three days. In the past, neither the Sammamish Review nor the Issaquah/Sammamish Reporter attended any retreat, relying instead on City officials to recount and put their spins on events.)
A handful of citizens went to Tacoma last year. Malchow believes that in the interest of broader outreach to the public, public participation and transparency, the retreat next week should be webcast.
What about recording?
“I’m wondering if we try it, does it have to be live-streamed?” asked Keller. “If we run into some technical difficulty and we just record it, we could play it when we got back, if there was trouble.”
“I would prefer to have it recorded,” said Huckabay, “so it could play on Channel 21 so people could look at it.”
“That’s a different experience,” Hornish said.
“This will be the first time [the facilitator] has ever done that,” Howard said. “His recommendation is basically not to do it. We intend to take good notes. But this is an opportunity for the council to have some discussions that are necessary. If council decides to go a different direction and try something different, we’ll definitely follow your lead on it.”
“I don’t care if other people think it’s a bad idea,” said Hornish. “I think it’s a great idea in the name of transparency.”
“Likewise,” said Valderrama.
Candid conversations, not candid camera
“I like the idea, I think we should find out if we can do it,” said Odell. “My major concern is
one of the benefits of having gone ‘quiet,’ to use a term, and not being on a camera all the time is, frankly, I think sometimes there has been some performing going on, which we haven’t had at the retreat. Having, frankly, an open, honest discussion amongst us at the retreat is one of the benefits of having the retreats as opposed to us being on Channel 21 three times a month.”
“To that point,” Malchow said, “we’ve had public in all of our meetings at our retreat last year.”
“I know,” Odell, responded. “But we ignored them.”
“I think if you want complete transparency, then you don’t go that far away,” said Huckabay.
“You might as well just have it here,” Odell said.
“That’s something to consider for the future,” Malchow said.
“We also manage to have the between-meetings social gatherings to get to know each other a little better,” said Gerend.
“I will be sure to investigate if it’s technically feasible,” said Howard.
Going remote to limit participation
Odell opposed locating the retreat in Tacoma rather than at the Suncadia Resort.
The retreat is a public meeting, but Odell’s point about candid conversation without the public is not without foundation.
Meetings at which the public was not present included heated discussions, sometimes with yelling and accusations, according to those who were present.
Sammamish Comment attended the retreat at Suncadia in January 2015 and observed some intense moments between Huckabay and Council Member Nancy Whitten. (Whitten since retired from the Council.)
At the retreat last year in Tacoma, it was clear that the presence of The Comment and others stifled a discussion that was expected to zero in on Huckabay’s tactics during the 2015 City Council elections. The Comment obtained damaging emails through a series of public records requests that became campaign issues for the topics that were included.
Instead, Don Gerend, who had been selected Mayor shortly before the retreat, succeeding the defeated Mayor Tom Vance, urged Council Members to talk with each other if they had complaints about one another instead of using email.
The balance of the Tacoma retreat was devoid of the open rancor that permeated the 2015 Suncadia retreat.
“I was surprised and appalled that Kathy and Tom Odell seemed reluctant to even try it,” said Valderrama. “Odell said you can’t have candid conversations with a camera present. There are [citizens] there anyhow. Why is it any less candid with a camera there than with people in audience?
“We’ve been stressing transparency, openness and outreach to the citizens [this year], “said Valderrama. “To say we don’t want that is converse to saying what we’ve wanted publicly.”
Pingback: A big win for citizens, transparency: Sammamish to live stream its retreat | Sammamish Comment