There’s a little bit of an uproar going on in the Bellingham Herald Politics blog. It seems that some folks don't like being told what they can say during County Council "open sessions."
The blog posted a pronouncement read into the record before Tuesday night’s Whatcom County Council meeting. This pronouncement is SO IMPORTANT THAT IT MUST BE READ IN ALL-CAPS! So don't blame me.For those who don't like to read all caps, the PRONOUNCEMENT says that no comments about the Gateway Pacific terminal will be allowed during open session.
Here it is, as reprinted in the Herald. I hope that Council Chair Kershner read it in an appropriately stern voice:
THE COUNCIL HAS RECEIVED A WRITTEN LEGAL OPINION FROM THE WHATCOM COUNTY PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE CLARIFYING FOR US THE QUESTION OF WHETHER OR NOT WE SHOULD RECEIVE PUBLIC COMMENT ON THE PROPOSED GATEWAY PACIFIC TERMINAL PROJECT DURING “OPEN SESSION”. WE HAVE BEEN ADVISED THAT SUCH COMMENT SHOULD NOT BE ALLOWED AT THIS TIME.
THE PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE ADVISES THAT THE BASIC PRINCIPLE OF A FAIR HEARING PROCESS IS THAT DECISIONS ARE MADE ENTIRELY ON THE BASIS OF THE EVIDENCE CONTAINED IN THE RECORD AT THE TIME OF THE PROCEEDINGS. BECAUSE OF THIS, THE APPEARANCE OF FAIRNESS DOCTRINE, AS CODIFIED BY CHAPTER 42.36 RCW, PROHIBITS EX PARTE COMMUNICATIONS. AN EX PARTE COMMUNICATION IS A ONE-SIDED COMMUNICATION BETWEEN A DECISION-MAKER AND THE PROPONENT OR OPPONENT OF A PARTICULAR PROPOSAL WHICH TAKES PLACE OUTSIDE OF THE FORMAL HEARING PROCESS ON A QUASI-JUDICIAL MATTER. OUR PROSECUTOR’S OFFICE BELIEVES THAT COMMENTS DURING OPEN SESSION, OUTSIDE OF THE FORMAL HEARING PROCESS, ARE EX PARTE COMMUNICATIONS. IT SHOULD BE EMPHASIZED THAT THE STATUTE DOES ALLOW FOR THE SUBMISSION OF WRITTEN COMMENTS, PROVIDED THEY ARE MADE A PART OF THE RECORD.
Some rude people made fun of this pronouncement. Oh, all right, I was one of them. Here’s the blog link.
But before we get all Europeany and revolting, let's take a step back and think about this. Can’t we all just get along? Why, sure we can.
Note that the PRONOUNCEMENT only applies to the Gateway Pacific project. Nobody’s stopping anybody from educating the Council about coal terminals in general.
For example: One might say “If a 48-million ton coal terminal were built on the west coast, it would require 487 of the world’s largest bulk carriers to transport all that coal across the sea to China. Did you know that those carriers burn the dirtiest fuel on earth?”
No ex parte contact there!
Or, one might talk about Large Facilities. As in, “when bulk materials such as coal are transported by train to Large Facilities, the diesel particulate emissions are so significant that a health risk assessment should be performed.”
Another non-ex parte contact!
It’s easy. And we can all play.