Sammamish’s last minute decision to livestream its annual retreat, a first for the city and believed to be a first for any jurisdiction in the area, was an admirable step in the right direction.
It represented a quest for transparency and a hope for increased citizen participation.
Success was muted by the fact the only microphone was that on the camera itself. None was put strategically around the room to pick up the voices of the council members and staff.
Sammamish Comment, which was present at the retreat in Tacoma, received emails during the retreat that audio for the most part could not be heard during the livestream.
Lesson learned. Assuming the City does livestreaming next year, we’d expect a better audio set up. Another issue: video viewers could not see slides that council and staff could., and the stationary, single camera left it unclear who was speaking.
Still, the City gets an A for effort.
Once officials get to see the “hits” on the City’s website, it will be able to judge how many tried to view the livestream, even with minimal notice of just two days that it would be available. Fewer people drove to Tacoma to attend the retreat than had previously indicated they would, so it’s likely they hoped to livestream.
In the end, this probably rates a D for execution, but intent deserve praise and now there is plenty of time to think about how to improve for next year.
On the other hand, the intent to reduce the time for public comment to eliminate marathon sessions is disturbing and misplaced.
The Council was hit many times in the last two years with marathon public comment sessions lasting two hours, which pushed getting down to agenda business back accordingly. This pushed Council meetings well past midnight in most cases.
A major complaint is repetitiveness of the message. Council members would hear the same complaint from a succession of people, providing little new information, sometimes week and week after week.
This complaint is valid. The citizens need to recognize that the repetitiveness of the same information results in “losing” your audience, the very Council members and staff they are trying to impress. The citizens need to pick, choose and craft their messages carefully to successfully convey their concerns.
As for the Council, this is, whether they like it or not, what they signed up for when they ran for office.
In our own public comment Saturday, after Friday’s discussion about how to limit public comment, Sammamish Comment laid it on the line, and in no uncertain terms: inaction, poor decisions and agitation by some Council members to generate public comment on issues means they brought these marathon sessions on themselves.
There were some pretty dour faces at hearing this unpleasant truth.
Transparency only goes so far
While officials got an A for effort on livestream in the name of transparency, transparency only goes so far in Sammamish.
In a special report posted yesterday, Sammamish Comment revealed a long history of elected officials and others using private email accounts for city business.
There’s been selected disclosure to public records requests of these emails despite established case law.
In one episode, one Council Member specifically demanded that his private email account be used to avoid public disclosure.
The special report revealed instance after instance of city business being conducted by private email, discovered usually only because Sammamish Comment had foreknowledge the private-account emails existed. The Council members failed to produce the records until a second, specific request targeting these emails was filed.
The special report also revealed that different standards were being applied to different council members by the city attorney.
Progress, but not there yet
Sammamish is making progress on transparency. But it has a long way to go.