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Board secrecy called illegal

Wed., Dec. 13, 2006

Spokane County’s air pollution board violated state law when it decided to hire its new director behind closed doors, the state auditor’s office said in a report expected to be released this week.

The Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority board decided in June to offer the agency’s top administrative position to Bill Dameworth, former environmental manager for timber company Pope & Talbot, during a meeting that was closed to the public.

Officials argued that they violated no law because they never held a formal vote about Dameworth and instead made the decision by “consensus.” They later offered him the job in an open meeting, but no public vote was held on the matter until after Dameworth had been working as the director for four days.

Whether done by consensus or a vote, the state report said that it was a decision that should have been made in the public’s view.

The finding is part of the regular audit the state performs on the agency every two or three years, said auditor’s spokeswoman Mindy Chambers. The office doesn’t have the power to punish agencies based on audits.

“It’s always better to make decisions about this on the side of openness,” Chambers said.

The report also criticizes SCAPCA for not properly notifying the public about selection committee meetings at which a majority of board members narrowed a list of candidates for the director’s spot.

Matt Pederson, chairman of the board, noted that when questions arose about open meeting violations soon after Dameworth’s hire, the board met for a public vote. He said he was uncertain whether the selection committee notices were posted on paper, but he did state the date, time and locations of all the meetings during SCAPCA’s monthly meetings.

“It comes down to interpretation. I don’t believe we ran afoul of the Public Meetings Act,” Pederson said. “There obviously were some issues that we will address.”

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