Port of Walla Walla to overhaul meetings

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WALLA WALLA -- Major changes are in store for Port of Walla Walla meetings in 2012.

Port commissioners say they will invest in audio equipment to record their minutes. They're also shooting to decrease the length of their meetings and relocate all their work sessions to the Port's administrative office.

The changes were agreed upon during a daylong budget retreat Monday, commissioners said this morning.

The cost of the equipment and reconfiguration of the Port's meeting room to make the changes will not be cheap, Commission President Mike Fredrickson said today.

Port officials have tentatively budgeted $100,000 for the purchase of equipment and to redesign the room at the administrative office, 310 A St. But he believes based on attendance at meetings few people will likely turn to the digital recordings to listen to the meetings.

"I'm just frustrated," Fredrickson said.

"Is it really worth $100,000 to rearrange our meeting room so that can happen?"

He said he is skeptical residents will use the recordings. However, he said he did not speak out against recording meetings Monday.

The retreat came on the heels of a re-election campaign in which Fredrickson's opponent, Barlow Corkrum, and Corkrum's supporters criticized the economic development agency over transparency and said the Port should do more to engage the public. Fredrickson believes the Port already operates openly and that the cost associated with the new recordings is a big expense to satisfy a relative minority.

"The frustrations are the accusations without basis," he said.

"If people want to sit in their own home and listen to it on a Tuesday night, great."

Numerous details about how the Port will record meetings would still need to be determined, commissioners said.

The changes were largely championed by Commissioner Paul Schneidmiller, who said this morning he has been wanting to make the change for the last three or so years.

"It's something that I think has been needed," Schneidmiller said. "We just haven't made it a priority to really have a good discussion on it."

He said commissioners plan to record the regular, twice-monthly Port meetings. Whether they will include work sessions is not yet known. Port officials also haven't determined whether they will record Economic Development Advisory Committee minutes. Those meetings take place six times a year and are attended by about 50 or 60 business representative from the community. The question of recording those is logistical, Fredrickson said.

"Who would approve the minutes?" he said.

In addition to the minutes, Fredrickson, Schneidmiller and fellow Commissioner Ron Dunning also agreed to shoot for shorter meetings. The length of Port meetings has averaged five or six hours. Though commissioners often move items on the agenda to accommodate either special guests at their meetings or those interested in a certain topic, the length of the meetings may deter some from attending for the duration.

Schneidmiller said commissioners are going to try to keep the meetings at three hours. Fredrickson said he's not sure whether that will be possible.

"I don't know how staff is going to do it," he lamented. "They've never been able to do it in the past."

As commission president he said he's been able to reduce meetings by a half-hour or hour at the most on occasion.

Meeting times will change slightly. The work sessions that run the hour before the regular sessions will no longer take place offsite. In the past, work sessions were at restaurants and conducted over meals.

Now they'll take place at the administrative office and lead right into the regular session. Meetings will still take place the second and fourth Thursdays. One of those will still be in the afternoon and the other in the evening.

The evening work session would likely begin at 6 p.m. with the regular session at 7. The afternoon meetings would kick off with a 1 p.m. work session and 2 p.m. regular session.

Schneidmiller said the scheduling change was brought about for two reasons. "One: we just didn't see the need to do the meals," he said. "And two: we wanted to really get a good handle on the time frame of the meetings."

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at vickihillhouse@wwub.com or 526-8321.

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