For an agency that promised to be the most transparent government entity Seattle has ever seen, the Seattle Monorail Project sure does a lot of its business behind closed doors. Last week, letters went out inviting a select list of "experts" to attend one of eight super-secret "brainstorming" sessions scheduled throughout July. Before they can attend the closed-door sessions (which will focus on ways to make the monorail a "more positive communal experience," according to workshop organizer Stephen Brown), attendees must sign a form promising they won't blab about anything discussed at the meetings--including "information not generally known to the public," according to the invitation. For their trouble, participants will be paid $150--at a total cost to the agency of between $7,000 and $12,000.

Why is a public agency shutting the doors on meetings that could have a huge impact on monorail design? Brown, a 30-hour-a-week SMP employee who makes $75,000 a year, says open meetings might make people feel as if they're being "judged" and stifle the creative process. "It's to provide comfort to the people participating that they won't be under a microscope," Brown says. "When you're asking people to take creative risks... you have to have a comfortable, somewhat safe environment." Tell that to the dozens of people who show up at the monorail's public meetings and seem to suffer no such inhibitions.

One invitee who won't be attending is One Reel director Jane Zalutsky, an outspoken opponent of a monorail route through Seattle Center. In an e-mail, Zalutsky told Brown that although she "would like to participate," she couldn't sign the confidentiality agreement or accept payment for her services. "It doesn't seem like this is a high-level, top-secret policy decision that should be kept from the public," Zalutsky says. Brown's response? "I'm not invited anymore," Zalutsky laughs.