Public access must be a top priority for Port of WW

Holding a discussion in Burbank about a parking garage in downtown Walla Walla doesn't serve the public.

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One of the major issues in the recent election for Port of Walla Walla commissioner -- a race that's so close it likely will be decided by a recount -- was over whether the Port does enough to conduct its business openly.

Frankly, this is a tricky issue. The Port, which serves as the lead economic development agency, has to keep some of its dealings quiet because they involve negotiations with potential businesses or industries looking to establish a presence in the Walla Walla Valley.

But there are many things the Port oversees that require no secrecy. Those discussions must be open to the public. The Port's business is ultimately the taxpayers' business.

At this point, it doesn't seem Port officials are doing all they can to provide easy access to Port meetings.

For example, the Port commissioners held a meeting in Burbank last week because the Port is involved in a number of projects in that area -- from the new highway interchange being constructed to a proposed Burbank Business Park.

Yet, topping the agenda -- at least for the folks who live 40-plus miles away in Walla Walla -- was a discussion of a proposed multi-level parking garage in downtown Walla Walla. The Port is helping with exploring a design for the structure.

We have no problem with the Port's involvement, but why didn't the Port commissioners hold the parking garage discussion in Walla Walla?

Getting public input from people who would be affected daily could help shape the plan for a parking garage.

Ironically, Port officials took their meeting on the road as a way to better serve people who live in the Burbank area. We get they were trying to do the right thing and we commend them for that.

Yet, the downtown Walla Walla parking garage aspect of the meeting was a waste in Burbank. Just one person from the city attended.

Unfortunately, not making an effort to accomodate the public seems to be a pattern.

Some citizens have asked the Port to tape its meetings, which usually last a mind-numbing five to six hours, so there is no question about what was discussed in the public sessions. Commissioners remain resistant.

Commissioners should go beyond just taping the meetings. The Port should reach out to the local cable TV provider to begin audio broadcasts of the meetings as is done with the Walla Walla City Council meetings. Or, even better, perhaps the Port could find a way to add video broadcasts of the meetings. (By the way, the Walla Walla City Council should add video to its broadcasts.)

Let's be clear, the Port is not in violation of the law.

But expediency appears to be seen as more important than accommodating the public-- going above and beyond what the law requires.

The Port of Walla Walla must make transparency and public access a top priority.

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