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Daily News Editorial

By Staff | Mar 14, 2008

March 16-22 is Sunshine Week. And we don’t mean that big, yellow thing up in the sky that we haven’t seen in quite a while.

Sunshine Week is when we observe the right of the public (through the press) to know how their elected officials are making decisions on their behalf.

Some public bodies think the media are a nuisance and an annoyance. They say their local newspaper or radio or television station is just out to “make headlines” when they cry out against secret meetings.

Well, they might just as well say that the public that elected them is a nuisance and an annoyance. It is in fact the media that represents the public’s right to know.

Jean Otto, former editorial page editor of The Rocky Mountain News, once said, “The press is the natural adversary of the government.”

Now you can take that two ways. One could be that the press is contentious and always making trouble for the government. The other is that the press is looking out for the public’s best interests and is there to keep government on the straight and narrow.

We believe the second interpretation is closer to what Otto intended to say.

When a quorum of members of a government body meet to “chew the fat” over coffee and “unofficially” make a decision or discuss official business, that is in violation of the state open public meetings law.

When government bodies have “calling tree” meetings in which they phone each other in order to come to some consensus, that is in violation of the state open public meetings law.

Public officials can call for a closed session to discuss legal negotiations, personnel issues, or pending real-estate transactions. Sometimes, in fact, local government bodies don’t call for closed sessions when they should, and personality issues are hung out to dry like this morning’s laundry.

As a member of the media, we encourage and support a government body’s decision to hold a closed session, as long as it is for a legal reason.

However, we abhor illegal coffee klatches, telephone trees, or any other meetings that subvert the public’s right to know how these decisions are made.

We do not oppose illegal closed meetings simply because we “aren’t getting the story.” We oppose them because decisions duly elected public officials are ignoring the right of the public to know how and why those decisions were made.

We hope the public appreciates the fact that our state has adopted an open public meetings law.

We also hope that our voters consider this a key issue the next time they go to the polls. Ask candidates where they stand on obeying open meeting laws and whether, if elected, they will conduct themselves as public representatives or as common criminals.