The City's Pulse Newsletter
Let the Sunshine In


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  states 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

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