Weary of being asked questions from the public that he can't answer, the president of the Kennewick Irrigation District board announced Tuesday that he was changing the rules for public comment at meetings.
John Jaksch said anyone who wants to criticize the water agency by asking tough questions has to take their concerns to a KID staff member before they will be allowed to speak at a public board meeting.
But later in the day, Jaksch changed his mind about the ruling.
He declared the new rules for making public comment after refusing to let frequent KID critic James Wade have his say Tuesday morning during the public comment portion of the meeting. KID's policy had been to allow anyone up to three minutes for comments on any subject not on the meeting agenda.
Wade, a two-time candidate for a board seat who regularly attends meetings, often raises questions about finances, water rates and board procedures.
Jaksch interrupted Wade's remarks Tuesday, seconds after Wade began.
"Have you taken this to KID staff?" Jaksch asked.
When Wade said he hadn't, Jaksch insisted that Wade go on to another subject, and then announced his "no new questions" rule.
Stymied, but not done, Wade wondered how KID was able to hold the public hearing on 2010 rate assessments the first week in January when it was well past when the board originally began and ended the comment period.
"I believe KID violated the law on this," Wade said.
Unable to answer, Jaksch called upon KID attorney Brian Iler to reply.
Iler, who said he needed time to research the state law, told the board later in the meeting that KID had not broken any laws in the way it conducted the hearing about rate assessments.
Jaksch said during a break in the morning meeting that he wanted people with questions that "I cannot answer" to take them up with staff before raising them with the board. He said the rule was his own idea, and that he felt it would be best.
But by mid-afternoon Jaksch had reversed himself.
In a call to the Herald, Jaksch said he had consulted with others, including fellow board members, and was retracting his rule.
"We are going back to the way it was," he said.
Wade, who walked out of the KID meeting after being cut short on his remarks, said he was pleased Jaksch realized the mistake.
"(Changing his mind) was the right thing to do. Otherwise at the next meeting I'd be bringing up the violation of my constitutional rights to free speech," Wade said.
Also Tuesday, the KID board:
-- Adopted the assessment roll for 2010.
-- Heard presentations from department managers about reorganization plans under the leadership of newly hired manager-secretary Chuck Freeman.
-- Approved a $98,000 purchase of a used Mack dump truck, by a vote of 3-2, with directors John Pringle and Gene Huffman opposed, and unanimously approved the $21,000 purchase of a forklift.
-- Learned that the water forecast for next year is questionable because of slightly below normal storage at reservoirs and the prediction of a warmer than normal February. It's too early to predict drought, said district planner Scott Revell, but it is a possibility.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org