Last week’s story about a proposed parking facility highlighted some flaws in the process that seem to be perpetuated by e-mail. Realizing that it is now easier than ever to let your elected officials
know how you feel doesn’t forego the idea of common courtesy or tact. Several
of the e-mails I read quite handily took shots at several elected officials.
Maybe they deserve the shots, but to do it through e-mail sure does take away
the credibility. Maybe a face-to-face meeting would have been better or a
letter entered into the record at a city council meeting would have had a more
So how important is e-mail in the democratic process? Just based on
the surface, it appears it is a way to inform and provide feedback on several
levels. With regards to a planning commission deliberating an applicant’s proposal,
it appears to be a way to conduct some level of discussions prior to and
after formal hearings or meetings. I’m also sure that it is a great communication
tool between city staff and various elected or appointed officials. So it can also
be used to influence decisions or possibly make decisions out of the public eye.
And let’s not forget that e-mails between city staff, elected officials
and appointed officials are all part of the public record and subject to the
applicable open meetings and records law. Even e-mails submitted by citizens with
regards to city business are subject to the open meetings and records law.
But beyond all of this is the matter mentioned earlier — courtesy. Is
the idea of a parking facility near the Si View neighborhood appropriate? That’s
a good question and not one that should be immediately answered through
nasty e-mails. But by the same token, there is a public process that has to
occur starting with a staff report, planning commission hearings, a planning
commission recommendation, council hearings and a council vote. There will
be ample opportunity to let your opinion be heard. Let’s not subvert the process.