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Editorials

Editor’s note: Today’s editorials originally appeared in The (Tacoma) News Tribune and The Oregonian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.

Rare is the day when Tacoma beats out San Francisco for a technology start-up, wins the attention of a former Facebook executive and has a chance to boast about being the West Coast host of a Zuckerberg family member’s venture.

But that’s what happened recently with the announcement that an exciting youth-oriented initiative, created by Facebook Live founder Randi Zuckerberg (Mark’s sister), will come to Tacoma this summer — one of just 10 U.S. cities identified for the traveling, hands-on high-tech lab.

Called “Sue’s Tech Kitchen,” the program debuted last year in New York. It uses a fictional female protagonist to teach children about math, science and robotics through two of their favorite things: play and food. Where else can a kid make 3D-printed cakes, computer-coded candy and ice cream whipped up from liquid nitrogen?

“Sue’s Tech Kitchen recognizes that one of the best ways for our kids to learn is through play,” said Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, who made the announcement at his recent State of the County address. “It’s also one of the best ways to build communities.”

No, this three-day experience doesn’t have the heft of an information-technology firm or biotech startup. It’s not a brick-and-mortar Silicon Valley-esque enterprise, the kind that local economic development leaders covet as they try to build a persuasive portfolio that Tacoma is a tech town.

But it might be the next best thing: an investment in the scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs of tomorrow, the creative thinkers whom our country — and our region — must cultivate if it hopes to compete globally over the next half century.

Randi Zuckerberg is passionate about bringing these fields of interest to underserved but promising communities outside the Bay area, and to underserved but promising students, particularly young girls. Bravo to her for recognizing that Tacoma fits the criteria to a T.

No doubt it helped that Zuckerberg has visited Tacoma and caught a glimpse of its energy and untapped potential. The bestselling author of “Dot Complicated: Untangling our Wired Lives” was the keynote speaker at last fall’s South Sound Summit, hosted by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber. Those are the kinds of connections that can pay dividends later.

The traveling program, slated to be here in August, will give the Tacoma area one more layer of accessible, fun-filled learning in science, technology, engineering and math, a cluster of knowledge popularly known as STEM.

Local education institutions have done their part for several years and continue to do so. Since 2003, the University of Washington Tacoma has sponsored a tuition-free, three-week summer Math-Science Leadership Program; it is tailored to students in grades 7-12 who historically lack STEM opportunities — low-income, minority, female and potential first-generation college students.

With such sustained efforts, there’s reason to believe Tacoma can launch the post-millennial generation of girls and boys on a path to change the world with cutting-edge discoveries.

Public email for public business

Back in 2016, when transparency in Oregon government was all the rage, state agencies were reminded of some basic tenets of open government. Among them: Public employees and officials should use their state-provided email accounts for public business. If they had to use their personal email, they should copy the message to their public accounts as soon as possible.

This was more than just an idle recommendation. With the resignation of former Gov. John Kitzhaber amid allegations — since confirmed with his recent settlement with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission — of misusing his public office for personal gain, Oregonians learned just how opaque Oregon government is.

Unfortunately, even with such clear-cut examples of the need to conduct public business on public email, the calls for transparency haven’t always stuck. The Oregon Board of Education is a case in point.

The board, charged with setting educational policy for the state’s K-12 system, includes seven voting members appointed by the governor and two non-voting members representing the secretary of state and state treasurer. They are public officials serving on a public body that is subject to Oregon’s open meetings and records laws and have a duty to retain and make accessible its records.

But as a recent email showed, Oregon Department of Education staff sent materials for an upcoming meeting to members’ personal or work accounts — not the state accounts that the department opened in their names. The only member who received education-board materials at her education-board email account was Kim Sordyl, the secretary of state’s designee and a perennial thorn in the department’s side.

To be fair, there’s no reason to believe that members of the education board are conspiring in personal email exchanges. Charles Martinez, the chairman of the board of education, told The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board that members don’t use email much beyond routine matters, instead reserving discussions for public meetings.

At the same time, there’s no reason that education board members should be using personal accounts in the first place. They all have state-issued email accounts through which the public expects them to conduct their work as members of the board of education. That’s Public Records 101, as State Archivist Mary Beth Herkert noted. If they must use a private email, they should immediately copy the record to their official accounts where they can be retained and preserved.

In fact, the state Department of Administrative Services reinforced that protocol as part of a model records management policy it issued in 2016. State agencies, including the Oregon Department of Education, adopted versions by October of that year.

Unfortunately, adopting a policy isn’t the same as ensuring it’s followed.

The next step should be for agencies to evaluate how faithfully they are adhering to these best practices. The Department of Administrative Services should also assess their compliance. Provided that transparency is still the goal.

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