SUNNYSIDE — The City Council and members of the various commissions and boards were provided refreshing reminders about their roles and responsibilities, as well as the law as it pertains to those roles.
Ann Bennet, director of Washington Cities Insurance Authority, was the first to share a few do’s and don’ts at the June 3 workshop.
She pointed out how officials can set the city up for a lawsuit, as well as ways to avoid liability issues.
Although the City Council or other legislators receive individual immunity when acting as a whole body, they are not immune when acting outside their meetings.
Bennett said fairness and impartiality are imperative, therefore any member who communicates with either a proponent or opponent of an issue being considered by the legislative group must disclose the content of those communications.
“This is how council’s get into trouble,” Bennett said.
Land use, personnel and negligent misrepresentation are areas of potential liability, she said.
Bennett also set the table for a reminder on the Public Records Act, reminding all officials their business emails and communications (including those on personal devices) are subject to public records request, and communication should be via the city issued emails.
City Clerk Jacqueline Renteria reminded those present for the workshop of the history of Washington’s Public Records Act.
She said the law is tailored with the people of the state having the right to know what is happening within its government bodies.
Public records include “Any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government prepared, owned, used or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics,” Renteria said.
The Public Records Act, RCW 42.56 outlines the obligations of the government agencies, which includes honoring requests submitted in person, by mail or by email.
Although there may be a policy like the city’s that includes a public records request form, Renteria said verbal requests must also be honored.
The city or government agency has five days to respond to a request, and no request can be considered “too broad,” she said, noting clarification to ease the burden can be made, but the requestor is not obligated to narrow the scope of the request.
A review of the Open Public Meetings Act, as well as roles and responsibilities of commissioners was also provided by City Manager Martin Casey.