Sunlight Weekly Roundup: Public meetings are not “for the convenience of the elected officials”

  • In Phoenix, Mayor Greg Stanton has proposed moving all City Council meetings from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. As you might imagine, it is difficult for many residents to actively attend meetings held in the middle of the weekday. Stanton hopes the time change will increase citizen engagement and turnout. Moreover, he hopes it will improve overall government transparency. Lhyn Bui writes, “Stanton has proposed this and other public-meeting changes to improve open government and transparency at City Hall. He said moving the meetings to a later time will allow working residents who can’t leave their jobs in the middle of the day to get involved.” Staton’s other proposals for increasing the state’s government transparency include broadcasting formal and zoning meetings on YouTube and  televising subcommittee meetings. Stanton argues, “The meetings aren’t for the convenience of the elected officials. It is for public debate and discussion.” For the rest of the story, check out Bui’s post on AZ Central. 
  • A judge ruled that Maryland’s Charles County Board of County Commissioners violated the state’s open meeting law in hosting a partially-closed site visit with WSG Holdings, a company planning to build a research facility in the area. Although the board initially held public meetings to discuss their plans with the public, the site visit was less than open. Patricia Salkin explains, “A site visit to the location was scheduled in which government officials, WSG and its attorney, as well as two representatives of the community could attend – thus it was not entirely open to the public.” Furthermore, the board kept no record of the site visit. Salkin maintains, “The court then addressed the open meetings law of Maryland, which provided that were a closed meeting is held, no evidence can be taken by, nor can an argument be made before, the board.  In this instance, there was a partially open, partially closed hearing, as representatives were permitted to attend, but no record or findings were made.  This was not permitted and was a violation of state law.” For Salkin’s take, see her post on Law of the Land.
  • In Oklahoma, Henryetta city council members voted down a requirement for a public comment section at every meeting but set in place rules allowing the public to comment on various agenda items. The public comment issue was revisited after Councilman Mickey Dombek asked for it to be put on the agenda in January. The measure had originally been voted down by the council in December due to worries about violating the state’s open meeting laws. However, Councilman Mickey Dombek pointed out a ruling by Attorney General Drew Edmondson that indicated having a “public comment” section on the agenda would not constitute a violation of the law. The newly adopted guidelines allowing the public to comment at meetings “call for anyone wishing to speak to the council to sign in prior to the meeting start and recognized when they wish to speak.” Councilman Audie Cole argues, “I think the public ought to have the right to say something. As long as they follow the rules, this says the mayor can set a time limit.” For the whole story, check out Bruce Jones’ post on The Henryettan.
  • In last week’s roundup, we took a look at what blogger Al Cross  had to say about the fate of public notices in Ohio newspapers. Public notices are back in the news this week, this time in Hawaii.  Hawaii’s Senate Ways and Means Committee  is scheduled to decide whether to recommend passage of a bill that would end the newspapers’ monopoly on publication of legal notices. The bill states, “State and counties should be authorized to publish public notices online. This will align with the State’s strategic plan to leverage new technologies to increase government transparency and enhance citizen engagement and participation, while providing increased cost efficiencies for state government.” Newspaper publishers have defended their existing monopoly on public notices as they represent an important bit of income for the struggling industry. For more information, see Ian Land’s post on ILand. 
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