PORT ANGLES — A Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission subcommittee will meet privately Thursday in Port Angeles with no agenda and, according to the commissioner who called the meeting, no particular purpose.
Commission Chairman Larry Carpenter said he doesn’t know what he and the three other commissioners on the “executive committee” will talk about.
“We’re just going to have a generic chat,” he said. “We don’t have an agenda.”
The nine-member commission is subject to Washington’s open public meetings law. The state Attorney General’s Office supports Carpenter in closing the executive committee meeting, according to an email from Assistant Attorney General for Open Government Nancy Krier.
The committee makes up less than a majority of the commission and hasn’t been authorized to take any action, according to Krier.
Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington lobbyist Rowland Thompson said the committee’s name suggests it’s influential.
“Why is there an executive committee? It has a name that implies far-reaching powers,” Thompson said.
Carpenter said he can’t remember the executive committee meeting in his seven years on the commission. He said he didn’t know what topics fall under the executive committee’s purview.
“I couldn’t tell you right now. I could tell you after the meeting,” he said. “I guess the executive committee could address executive-related matters.”
The commission has several other four-member subcommittees, such as the fish committee, the wolf committee and wildlife committee. The meetings of those committees are open to the public and have agendas.
That won’t be the case with the executive committee.
“We’ve never met before. I want to have an initial meeting, just the four of us,” Carpenter said. “We may talk about department activities, we may talk about Port Angeles.”
Commissioners Barbara Baker, Bob Kehoe and Brad Smith also are on the subcommittee. Baker is the commission’s vice chairwoman.
The 90-minute closed session is scheduled to be followed by an open meeting of the fish committee. Agenda topics include hatchery reform. On Friday, the wildlife and wolf committees are scheduled to meet in public. Agenda topics include the status of the greater sage grouse and how the department responds to wolves attacking livestock.
Krier pointed to a 2015 Washington Supreme Court decision as the most recent ruling that held the open meeting law applies only to quorums. In that ruling, the court found a group of San Juan County officials who developed land-use policies in private didn’t break the law because only three of six county council members were involved. The court also found the group was not a committee created by the council.
Thompson said the executive committee was obviously created by the commission.
“The very name ‘executive committee’ suggests it’s going to take some action,” he said. “It doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
“I don’t know of any board or commission that meets that way as a state agency,” Thompson said.
Fish and Wildlife Director Kelly Susewind defended the closed meeting and said commissioners are dedicated to open government.
“They are still strongly committed to maximum transparency,” he said. “I think it (the closed meeting) is absolutely an exception to the norm.”
Susewind said he suspects the executive committee will talk about making the best use of the full commission’s closed meeting later that day.
The commission has scheduled an hour-long executive session. It has not yet announced the purpose of the meeting.
“An hour is not a long time for an executive session,” Susewind said.
Carpenter, a retired business owner, said executive committees are common in the private sector. The department’s status as a public-sector body “doesn’t matter,” he said. “We still have the same right.”
Fish and Wildlife has the equivalent of 1,540 full-time employees and a two-year budget of $516 million, according to the recently passed state budget.
Carpenter said he doubts anyone will care about missing what’s said in the closed executive committee meeting.
“I couldn’t image there would be any public interest in it,” he said.
Commissioners receive $100 per workday and are reimbursed for meals, mileage and lodging. The executive committee is scheduled to go into its closed session 2 p.m. June 13 at the Red Lion Hotel, 221 N. Lincoln St., Port Angeles.