02/12/2018: "Open Meetings Act Not Violated By Hospital Commissioners Edwards & Schwinge"
(SJCHB prior to appointment of new board member -IG photo)
At the last SJC Public Hospital District #1 Commissioners special meeting the commissioners were accused of violating the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) when two of the five member board commissioners (with two vacant chairs) had discussed district business by phone, including candidates, two of whom would be appointed by the commission to fill out the board. After the meeting Commission chair Michael Edwards told The Island Guardian that “the board will ask for a review of the actions by the appropriate parties to determine if they violated any procedures rules.”
Pamela Hutchins, Superintendent of the district reported on Monday (02-12-18) that “any two commissioners on our five-person board may discuss public business as they wish without violating the OPMA. This has been confirmed by the district’s legal counsel and by the attorneys at Municipal Research and Services Center (MRSC), the authoritative source for these sorts of issues.”
In an email from Hutchins to The Island Guardian Hutchins explained in detail the current situation and how it has been resolved to the satisfaction of the Commission:
There are questions in the community about whether SJC Public Hospital District #1 Commissioners violated the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) after the resignation of two commissioners in January. The OPMA has not been violated, but I wish to explain why.
The OPMA limits how commissioners may transact business on behalf of the public. In Washington State most boards by law have either three members or five. On a statutory five-person board such as SJCPHD #1, no more than two commissioners may discuss any public business outside of a public meeting. On a three-person board, such as Fire District #3, they may not discuss business outside of a public meeting whatsoever.
The OPMA’s rules rest on quorum requirements. No board may meet as a quorum without notifying the public. A quorum simply means that commissioners may transact business on behalf of the public. A three-person board requires only two members to act as a board, whereas a five-person board requires three people - regardless of any vacancies. Whether a five-person board is short on members or not, it still functions like a five-person board in requiring three commissioners to transact on behalf of the public. There are special rules for a board that does not have sufficient members to form a quorum.
The OPMA is only violated when hospital district commissioners gather together as a quorum (3 or more) without notifying the public.”