Richland Councilmember Terry Christensen

Richland City Councilmember Terry Christensen announced at the Tuesday night council meeting that he wants to bring back the pre-meetings.  

The pre-meetings weren’t televised and produced no minutes and no recordings or videos. The councilmembers talked about, well, whatever.

Until about two years ago, the pre-meetings occurred about 30 minutes before the regular meeting. It was noted at the top of the regular meeting agenda with sometimes a couple of items listed under it.

At one pre-meeting that the Observer attended the councilmembers talked about how they were going to deep-six a petition for a referendum on selling marijuana in Richland. Not even the petitioners were aware that the matter would be discussed.

Residents interested in a particular city issue never knew when it might be the subject of a pre-meeting.

After Ryan Lukson became mayor two years ago, the pre-meetings ended. Councilmember Sandra Kent said that City Attorney Heather Kintzley was responsible for ending the pre-meetings.

Christensen claimed that Kintzley was “comfortable” although perhaps not happy about resuming them.

Christensen may have missed the 10 minutes in the pre-meetings devoted to discussing the regular agenda items. Councilmembers often demonstrate during the meetings that they haven’t read the packet of information given to them several days before the meetings.

Christensen suggested that the newly resurrected pre-meetings start at 5:30 p.m. He said that since he’s retired that’s not a problem for him.

Washington State open meeting laws are among the most lax in the country. A meeting of a majority of councilmembers must be public; requirements beyond that are few.

Before the council and staff moved into the new city hall, they held the pre-meeting in a small room with a few chairs for any residents who came in.  Many thought the meetings were private.

After the city moved into the new council chamber, pre-meetings continued in the new location but council meeting attendees would often wait outside assuming the meeting was closed. The council never went out of the way to indicate otherwise.

The council decided to put this discussion on the next meeting’s agenda.