Let's catch our public officials...doing something good! In
honor of Sunshine Week, I'd like to highlight some of the honorable
actions taken by community leaders to improve openness, ethics
and communication in our local government.
Sunshine Week is an annual national event, this year March
16-22, to enlighten us about our government. The web site, www.sunshineweek.org
they are a "non-partisan initiative whose supporters are
conservative, liberal and everything in between." And they
seek " to enlighten and empower people to play an active
role in their government at all levels, and to give them access
to information that makes their lives better and their communities
stronger." Sounds good to me.
The following local people and groups have shown courage and/or
leadership in standing up for the citizens of our area, so I'd
like to give Sunshine Awards to:
Post Falls City Council because its meetings are televised
on Channel 13 but, in addition, the meetings are also on
its web site in downloadable video sections, so you can watch
at your convenience. And you can get them free, even if
you don't subscribe to cable TV.
Dave Patzer, LCDC urban renewal board commissioner who, at
this week's meeting, broke with tradition, asked tough questions
and spoke up to demand proper procedures.
Lakes Highway District, for changing its meetings from 1:00
pm, when working folks can't easily attend, to 6:30 pm, so more
members of the public can participate.
Woody McEvers, CdA city councilman, who has been asking better
questions and digging deeper for the information the public wants
and needs to know.
CdA City Council, for televised meetings of the council, P&Z,
Parks and Rec. and LCDC. All available on cable Channel
19. Or on DVD for $30 each. Not on its web site. But
kudos for putting the council information packet online so the
public can review it before the meetings.
Hayden City Council, for starting to build a video booth in
its council chambers. One a step in the right direction.
Betsy Z. Russell, Spokesman Review, for filing a formal complaint
and forcing a review of abuses of Idaho's Open Meeting Law.
Gary Ingram, retired Idaho Representative, and Coeur d'Alene
citizen, who wrote the Idaho Open Meeting law in 1974.
The Open Meeting Law is one of the hallmarks of sunshine in
Idaho. It protects the public's right to be involved with
government decisions and lays out exactly which types of meetings
must be made public. The Idaho Open Meeting Manual advises,
in big, bold print: IF IN DOUBT, OPEN THE MEETING.
One of the most important but oft abused parts of the Open
Meeting Law is that of Executive Sessions. These are the
closed door meetings that our public officials are allowed to
have, but only for very specific purposes. The law is immensely
clear that Executive Sessions are limited to a handful of objectives,
among them certain personnel issues, buying land from a
private party and pending legal issues. These sessions are not
for debate and deliberation. Our leaders are not supposed
to talk about general subjects, items on the main agenda or upcoming
concerns. All of those discussions are to take place in
the public part of the meeting.
Because it's Sunshine Week and I'm staying positive, I will
not name the area boards and councils that have extremely long
Executive Sessions on a regular basis. At almost every meeting.
I will, however, remind our leaders that the Open Meeting Law
demands "No Executive Session may be held for the purpose
of taking any final action or making any final decision."
It's up to us all, as we appreciate the freedom we cherish
in this country, to be vigilant about our right to know. Attend
the meetings. Ask questions. Demand answers and keep
your eyes open for abuses in the law. We need to be involved
with our government's decisions and we must safeguard that ability
for future generations. Our freedom is precious and certainly
worth the effort.
"Democracies die behind closed doors. The First Amendment,
through a free press, protects the people's right to know that
their government acts fairly, lawfully, and accurately." Judge
Damon Keith, U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals