7th District constituents working to create change in public meetings

State agency public meetings would be required to allow public testimony under Kretz's measure


When a state agency advertised a public meeting in Colville last year to discuss wildlife issues, then refused to allow public testimony on the impacts of the agency policies at the meeting, a frustrated constituent contacted Rep. Joel Kretz.

In response to citizen and local media concerns, the Wauconda Republican introduced House Bill 1552, which passed the House unanimously March 4.

The measure would require state agencies to accept individual oral testimony in the presence of all other attendees at public meetings. This would apply to meetings held under the Open Public Meetings Act where a state agency is adopting an ordinance, resolution, rule, order or directive.

“As agencies go around our state holding public meetings on potential new rules and regulations, people have shown up believing they would have an opportunity to comment only to find out public testimony is not accepted at the meetings,” Kretz said. “Folks have been surprised to find a different set up allowing agencies to direct folks to kiosks and information centers rather than hearing from them at the meetings.”

A major concern for Kretz and his constituents is that the current system doesn't allow for direct interaction between the people affected by the rule or regulation and the state agency. The process does not allow for true public input, he said.

“The point of a public meeting, in my mind, is to gauge public support, hear feedback and ensure government is responsive to the people it serves,” said Kretz. “This bill is about transparency and not wasting the public's time. What I don't want to see is public opinion dwindling and attendance dropping because people don't feel like they have a say in the process.”

Kretz added that local media outlets were also concerned. They filed an initiative petition to the Legislature to make the process more open and require a two-way dialog with the press and the public. Their concern, he said, was their readers expect the reporters to ask questions and then recap the details of the gathering in the next news cycle. This cannot happen with agencies' current way of doing business.

“This created quite a dust-up in the media,” Kretz said, “Local newspapers felt as though they could not get enough information to share with their readers and thought the hearing process was about hiding information, not sharing it.”

“After last fall's incident with the state agency, I am pleased to report we were able to ask the agency to return and hold another public meeting that allowed folks to speak up,” said Kretz. “The issue discussed was not controversial, but I know many folks appreciated being listened to and felt as though it was a more positive interaction with state government.”

Requiring the testimony of individuals be open for all attendees to hear is critical, Kretz added, because it fosters a working relationship with the state agency and gives everyone new perspectives on an issue.

“I'm proud of my constituents and our local media,” Kretz said. “This is grassroots action at its best. Folks want a real fix to this problem and are taking action to change the system. Everyone, including our newspapers and other media outlets, deserve a lot of credit for this bill's success so far.”

House Bill 1552 was forwarded to the Senate for further public hearings and consideration.


Washington State House Republican Communications