The very first meeting of the committee planning Bend’s transportation future had an important agenda item: Oregon’s open-meeting laws.
The city transportation advisory committee, or CTAC, is supposed to be transparent about its deliberations and decisions — even the information upon which such decisions are made. That is state law. But committee members have deliberated policy matters behind the scenes in at least one case.
Louis Capozzi, a member of the committee, emailed six other committee members and one member of the public on June 17. The subject: “Transportation Survey Disaster.”
A city survey of Bend residents found that respondents want wider roads, more lanes and better intersections. That is at odds with the view of some on the transportation committee. They believe Bend would be better off with a focus on biking, walking and transit.
Capozzi wrote in his email he wanted a motion by the committee to reject the survey findings and require future surveys be submitted to the committee in advance. He also wanted the motion to “promise to not let the failed effort pollute CTAC’s work and call for the termination of the consultants. … Those of us who feel (or, more properly, know) that bigger, wider, faster roads aren’t a good solution have now been told we’re in the minority and must simply accept this madness of the crowd as overwhelming.”
Capozzi invited the people he emailed to give him a call, if they would like to discuss it.
The issue is important because of Oregon’s open-meeting law. Just read what it says in the memo provided to the committee at its first meeting: “The Oregon Court of Appeals recently held that a series of communications, some by email and some by phone or in-person conversations, among members of a governing body could constitute a violation of the Oregon Public Meetings Law, even if no communication involved a quorum of the body.” That’s because the law’s objective of open meetings could be defeated by holding policy discussions in secret outside of the official meetings.
We emailed on Wednesday Capozzi and the email’s recipients to ask if they discussed this matter further among themselves. Steven Hultberg, Mike Riley and Ruth Williamson responded to us by our deadline. They each wrote Capozzi back, cordially debating some of his points and bringing up other considerations. Hultberg took the additional step of ensuring the email discussion would be part of the public record because he forwarded it to city staff. A very good move by him.
But policy debates should be held during open meetings. That’s clearly the intent of the law. How many more times has this happened with CTAC that we don’t know about?
The committee’s work is the starting point to ask voters to pay for what could be $100 million in transportation projects. One way to bungle that vote is to give the public an inkling that CTAC decisions were made in secret.