Earlier this “Sunshine” week, State Auditor Brian Sonntag, AG Rob McKenna, the Olympian’s publisher and the Timberland Regional Library Community Service Manager Michael Wessells got together to talk about open public access to government. Go here for a listen. Overall, not a bad hour to listen to, if not groundbreaking. Most of us have heard this stuff before, but it was interesting to hear nonetheless.

The Olympian allowed questions in the week leading up to the forum, and I was surprised that they got to mine early in the forum (about 36 minutes in) because it really didn’t deal directly with access to records. Rather I wanted to know about efforts to increase citizen dialogue with government. Take, for example, public hearings or public comment periods where the government opens up simply to fulfill the letter of the law, not to dialogue with citizens.

Bill Schneider wrote about this problem at New West.

McKenna responded its important to hold regular town hall meetings, allow for a give and take. Its good to have it for all elected officials to have. He heard from folks during his public forums on open records and gleaned some good ideas for his

Eve Johnson, the very capable moderator from LWV, mentioned that Olympia puts everything in their packet online and is also putting videos of their meetings online.

“It’s a tough job… most of them are trying to do the right thing” the Olympian publisher. Some ideas like forums are very useful. Subcommittee meetings can also help focus citizen involvement.

The gentleman from the library mentioned that citizens needs to be educated before they speak up (good point) and there are other channels, such as letters to the editor.

Good points all. If we expect that the public comment period at the start of local meetings is the extent to which we can dialogue with government, we’re very wrong. I like the suggestion from Wessells and McKenna together. We need to encourage more and regular town hall meetings, and it isn’t always the government that should take care of it.