02/03/2006: "Sunshine In The Council Hearing Room"
As anyone who has sat in on County meetings knows, it can be difficult to know what is being discussed, because often the officials will have reports, letters, draft regulations and such that they are referring to in their discussion, but the public has no idea what they are looking at, and then no way of knowing later when -and if- a document is made public, how the content of the document evolved, and why certain choices were made as the officials worked on it. Over the years there have been numerous complains throughout the state about the hidden nature of the government, and in response laws have been enacted in an attempt to make information more easily available to the public.
San Juan County has been the leader in the State on a number of issues, but open government has not been one of them. One example is how differing departments treat a request for copies of documents. Asking for copies in one department results in the copies being made and handed over right on the spot. In another department one is required to fill out a multi-page form of dubious value, and then wait for days for a response, while in yet another department the form is one page long. And the same problem exists in requests for electronic files. Now there are signs of change coming, and the good news is the sighs are coming from the County leaders.
Councilman Bob Myhr has repeated made public statements that County Government should be as open and as transparent as legally possible, "What are we doing that we would want to hide from the public?" he has asked on several occasions, and Ranker and Lichter both nod and agree with him. But still the problem has persisted, and then last week Stephen Robbins stood up in a Council meeting and said it is difficult to response, or give and opinion on what the Council is doing, if the public does not have a copy of what is being discussed. The irony is that the very same question was asked of some county department heads by Councilman Myhr when he first took office.
At a Council Staff meeting and work session on Monday morning (1-30-06) Myhr once again stated his view that the County should be making material available for the public. The County staff stressed the importance of marking such material as a "Draft", so the public understood such material was part of a work session, and not a final work product. The other Council members agreed, and at the next regular Council meeting there were copies neatly laid out for members of the public, so that they might be able to follow along with the Council as they worked their way though the dally agenda.