Hover, Branch complete training sessions for new office-holders
By Marcy Stamper
Newly elected county commissioners Andy Hover and Chris Branch are making lists of priorities and learning about the responsibilities they will assume when they’re sworn in this Friday (Dec. 30).
Hover and Branch both attended a three-day training run by the Washington State Association of Counties in Olympia earlier this month. The workshops covered legal responsibilities, the Legislature, natural resources, insurance issues, and the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) — among other things.
“They try to scare you to death,” said Hover, who said it made the new crop of commissioners wonder “why did you do this to yourself?”
At the training, panels of former and current commissioners shared the insights they developed as they became aware of the responsibilities of the job.
The session on the public meetings act addressed technology issues that many counties and governments are only beginning to grapple with, said Hover.
For example, the county is required to save all public records — including audio and video recordings — forever. Panelists talked about the logistics of storing terabytes of data — and making it all searchable — so they can fulfill requests for records on a particular topic, said Hover. “It’s a logistical nightmare—to have enough money to have servers to store the information, and then staff and ways to search it,” he said.
During their campaigns, both Hover and Branch emphasized transparency and accountability. They both said they’re looking for ways to keep the public better informed and to increase citizen involvement.
Hover has been exploring the possibility of using radio broadcasts to explain issues to constituents and to let people know the details of what’s on the commissioners’ agenda. He also suggested using a projector during commissioners’ meetings so that the public can follow the documents the commissioners are reviewing.
Because Branch has worked in city government for years — primarily as a planner and in community development — he said he is familiar with many of the requirements of the public meetings act, and has even led OPMA trainings himself. Still, it was valuable to be reminded of the details of the law, he said.
Branch said his top priorities are dealing with litigation and creating a program for citizen involvement that attracts a cross-section of people to represent the diversity of the county. He was adamant about finding a way to resolve lawsuits that have been filed against the county.
“Litigation is expensive and doesn’t always render the decisions either side might like—they might both be losers from the polarization we’re dealing with,” said Branch.
Branch also wants to take a proactive approach. “I’d like to bring in people who might be inclined to file lawsuits so we’re aware of their concerns,” he said.
Branch also hopes to focus on planning, tourism and economic development. He proposed scheduling classes offered for free by the Planning Association of Washington. He’d like to provide them to government staff and citizens so that everyone has a better understanding of the planning process.
“It’s a challenge, but I think it’s going to be exciting working with Andy and Jim. I think we can make some positive changes,” said Branch.
“It’s definitely going to be a learning experience,” said Hover.
Hover and Branch have their first official board meeting, along with Commissioner Jim DeTro, on Jan. 3.