Public Access Guidelines
Regular meetings of the Friday Harbor Town Council are held on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month at noon and again at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers located at 60 Second Street in Friday Harbor. Regular meetings can sometimes be continued to a future date and time, as determined prior to the conclusion of the regular meeting. Current agenda information is posted online or on the bulletin boards located at Town Hall.
All meetings of the Friday Harbor Town Council (and its appointed commissions and boards) are open to attendance by members of the public, except for such portions of any meeting as may be lawfully closed to the public under provisions of the State Open Public Meetings Act,
While members of the public have the right to attend all meetings, they have no right to address the Council except during the public access portion of a meeting (see below), although the Mayor, as presiding officer, has discretion to allow public comment at any point in a meeting.
Although not a requirement of the law, it has become the policy of the Mayor to include on the agenda for almost every regular meeting of the Town Council a designated time for public access. Public access provides an opportunity for the public to address the Council on any subject that is not of a quasi-judicial nature or that has not already been scheduled for a public hearing (see below). Speakers are asked to come forward and provide their name and address for the record. Comments should be limited to three minutes per individual and five minutes if representing a group.
Council members may or may not take action on public access items. Action, if any, most often consists of referring the matter to staff for review.
A public hearing is all or any portion of any public meeting during which public comment is invited. Public hearings may be held on legislative matters and must be held on all quasi-judicial matters. Notice of all public hearings is provided in advance by publication in one of the local newspapers and by posting on the entrance door to the Town Council Chambers.
Public hearings are not intended to be a time for the public to ask questions or obtain information about the subject matter of the hearing. Rather, public hearings are for the public to provide the Council with information. Members of the public are expected to obtain in advance of the public hearing whatever information they may need in order to provide meaningful comments at the hearing.
The scope of appropriate public comment is particularly limited in quasi-judicial matters, as discussed in more detail below. After all persons have spoken, the hearing is closed to further public comment, and the Council proceeds with its deliberations and decision making.
Those who wish to speak at a public hearing should:
- Raise your hand
- Wait for Mayor recognition
- Approach the microphone
- State aloud your name and address for the audio record (spell your name if requested)
- Offer your comments within three minutes
Whenever the Council is considering the passage of a new ordinance or the repeal or amendment of an existing ordinance, it is acting in a legislative capacity, such as creating laws which all members of the public will be subject to. Public hearings are required on only a limited number of legislative matters, but may be held on any legislative matter, at the discretion of the Council. Council members have the right to engage at any time in private discussions with their constituents on any legislative matter. The same holds true for proposed Council resolutions, although resolutions are not legislative in nature since they are not used to create new laws. Resolutions are, instead, only a formal statement of intent or recognition by the Council.
Whenever the Council is determining the legal rights or duties of specific persons, as those rights and duties are set forth in the already adopted ordinances of the Town, the Council is acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, like judges. A public hearing is required on all quasi-judicial matters. Council members do not have the right to engage in private discussions with their constituents, or anyone else, concerning a quasi-judicial matter. Instead, all information they receive and any opinion they express must occur only during a public hearing or a public meeting on the proposed quasi-judicial matter.
Unlike in legislative matters, the Council's range of options in a quasi-judicial proceeding is very narrow. The Council's authority is limited to determining if a particular person has the right under existing Town ordinances to proceed with a proposed course of action, typically a proposal for a certain use of their land. The Council may not make a decision based simply on what it believes is in the public's best interest, but must instead decide if the proposal is allowed under the existing law. Likewise, the Council may not modify the laws that apply to the proposal under consideration. Because of the limited scope of the Council's authority; public comment should be limited to whether or not the particular proposal fits within the requirements or limitations of then existing Town ordinances.
The Open Public Meetings Act authorized the Council to exclude the public from any portion of a meeting where confidentiality is required for the public interest; including issues of property acquisition, pending litigation, and certain personnel issues (RCW 42.30.110).
The Open Public Meetings Act does not apply to certain types of meetings or discussions by the Council, the most common examples being matters relating to employee union issues (RCW 42.30.140).