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Proposed closed-door meeting raises questions

Some county commissioners say discussions on the Buccaneer gas pipeline should be kept out in the open. Ultimately, the meeting was canceled.

County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand had a few words Wednesday for a planned closed-door County Commission session to discuss the Buccaneer gas pipeline.

"I feel that it would be marginal and highly suspect to have a closed-door meeting," Hildebrand wrote to County Attorney Robert Sumner.

"I would be more than happy to attend an open-door meeting," she wrote.

County Commission Chairwoman Pat Mulieri said the meeting, which she tentatively set for Friday, had been called off because of scheduling problems. She plans to bring the matter up at Tuesday's regular meeting.

Mulieri said Wednesday she just wanted the County Commission to be free to discuss strategy for dealing with the pipeline, which will cross 46 miles of Pasco, without the companies building the pipeline listening in. She ran the idea past county legal staff before arranging the scheduling, Mulieri said.

"That's the bottom line. I wasn't trying to do anything in secret," Mulieri said.

State law allows county commissions to hold executive sessions to discuss legal strategy and settlement negotiations under certain conditions, such as publicly announcing the meeting.

But Commissioner Steve Simon told Sumner in a memo that he wanted to meet in a session that was open to the public.

"I feel that to do otherwise would leave negative public perception . . . I don't feel that a closed meeting would be advantageous to our position," Simon wrote.

County officials have hammered out a draft settlement agreement with the Buccaneer pipeline partnership, in which the county would agree to drop its protest of the pipeline before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in exchange for extra safety features, environmental cleanup and about $500,000.

During last week's County Commission meeting, Mulieri questioned whether the draft settlement agreement went far enough to protect nearby residents and asked whether the county should hire an expert to review it.

That and other strategies are what Mulieri on Wednesday said she wanted to discuss in a closed session.

"We told staff we opposed it, but we didn't give them any direction," Mulieri said.