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Governance policy restricts speech, note taking of PUD directors

New rules set guidelines for board actions, and even discipline of directors

A new board governance policy for Columbia River People’s Utility District directors is being criticized by two of the board’s five directors.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: COURTNEY VAUGHN - Columbia River PUD directors discuss the recently adopted board governance policy during a meeting Tuesday, April 19. Pictured left to right: President Jake Carter and Directors Craig Melton and Richard Simpson.The governance policy was approved earlier this year and directors voted narrowly last week, with Directors Richard Simpson and Dave Baker opposed, to add revisions to the policy.

The new set of rules lays out guidelines for board functions and decision-making, and even discipline of elected directors, including censure, in an effort to adopt policies that “are known but not written,” and rely less on Robert’s Rules of Order for meeting conduct, district officials said last Tuesday, April 19.

Directors are advised not to speak about matters that have yet to be voted on and must clarify that any opinions given are solely their own and not those of the board or district, per the new policy.

Revisions adopted last week clarify the function of the district’s board management advisory team, which is made up of the president and one other board member.

Included in the 21-page policy are directives for filling a vacant general manager position, conducting meetings and restrictions related to executive session meetings, which are closed to the public.

One particular section of the governance policy allows directors to take notes during executive sessions, but does not let them keep the notes.

“If a Board member takes notes or otherwise records information in writing during an executive session, then at the end of the executive session, that Board member shall immediately submit the written materials to the Secretary for retention,” the policy states. “Board members may not retain written notes drafted during an executive session.”

That same section prohibits directors from discussing anything from an executive session meeting unless given approval by the board, which poses a potential conflict considering state law prevents governing bodies from mak-

ing final decisions or voting during executive session meetings.

Directors first reviewed the proposed policy earlier this year during a board workshop.

Baker, one of the two dissenting voices, said the policy was crafted largely by the PUD’s attorney, board president and interim general manager.

“It was already in ink and they had Phil [Griffin] there to explain it to us,” Baker said Friday, April 22. “It’s a board policy. The board should be the one that initiates it or discusses it. ... If I take notes, do I really have to turn them in at the end of the executive session? Do I really need to get a board vote to talk about something?”

Jake Carter, the PUD’s board president, pointed out that directors had ample time to contribute feedback and sug-

gestions about the policy before it was considered for adoption.

At a previous meeting, Director Craig Melton said he felt the policy was being “fast-tracked” to satisfy the district’s insurance providers.

Directors Carter and Melton did not respond to requests for comment.