2006/06/28

Open Meetings and All That

Paul Schreiber and the Open Meetings Act.

If the worst thing you can say about Paul Schreiber is that he may have contravened the open meetings act, then you really haven’t got much mud to throw at him.

Lets get this in perspective.

The open meetings act is very clear on the type of circumstances in which a closed meeting can be called. There is nothing in there that says “because the matter under discussion is damned embarrassing” though I’ll bet there are a few thousand committee chairs wish it did from time to time.

So, Paul has called a couple of closed meetings, the grounds for which are arguably spurious. The YHC attorney made it clear last Thursday night that he saw no infraction of the open meetings act, though I’d like to see him explain how the embarrassing subject of building code violations comes under any of the headings described in the open meetings act, article 15.268 Closed sessions; permissible purposes. Sec. 8.

I suspect that the attorney is resting on the premise that nothing will come of the inquiry; therefore there is no legal issue (however, I’ll wager that the YHC clerk is WELL ABREAST of the open meetings act now).

This act only really becomes a legal issue if someone wants to challenge a decision made during such a closed meeting (those decisions SHOULD be on the public record). Then there is the issue of correct minute taking, a part of the act that was possibly contravened, and which may present some embarrassment should anyone want to contest such a decision.

So, the legal issue is a non-event unless someone is aggrieved by a decision made in one of the closed meetings, and has the means and inclination to take their grievance to court.

The legal implications do not absolve Paul of the political issue.

It is only a little bit of mud that has been thrown, but the question remains, what is Paul’s commitment to open government? Will he deal with embarrassing situations behind the scenes?

Lord only knows that the actions of the present city council have been directed more from behind the scenes than in the public meetings. It is true that all the decisions are made in public and in a proper and orderly manner, but the votes are apparently tallied and arms apparently twisted long before the oath of allegiance is ever sworn in a public meeting.

I’d like an answer from all of the candidates on that question.

As I said in my first blog, were I inclined to vote for Paul in the first place, this issue would not sway my vote at all, however if I was swinging, I’d have to weigh Steve and Paul fairly carefully.

If Lois ever makes a public statement about what she hopes to achieve as Mayor, we can weigh her in the balance as well.

Take Care

Rod

4 comments:

trusty getto said...

I strongly believe that what's at stake is far more than a mere "legal" issue.

Transparency in government, particularly local government, is of paramount importance. If our politicians (myself included) desire the confidence, faith and trust of those we represent, then we MUST at all times, regardless of the political problems we may have to endure, conduct our business in the open and publicly. If it doesn't fit into an exception to the Open Meetings Act, it should never be discussed during a closed meeting -- period. Yes, some things are embarrassing and uncomfortable to discuss openly and publicly, but that is precisely what transparency is about -- having the strength and conviction to honor the principle and the law even though it may be difficult or uncomfortable sometimes to do so.

I won't be voting for anyone whose record fails to establish a commitment to transparency.

Rod said...

Wile I agree with you in principal, Cameron, I get the sense that these guys hadn't read the act they were citing, or at least hadn't read it in a good while.

In the fuzzy world of half-remembered details, "(e) To consult with its attorney regarding trial or settlement strategy in connection with specific pending litigation,but only
if an open meeting would have a detrimental financial effect on the litigating or settlement position of the public body."
can morph into "legal issues". I don't think this is acceptable in the office of the Mayor, and it shouldn't be acceptible anywhere. While I am inclined to hand the YHC the benefit of the doubt, I'd be looking for strong assurances from Schreiber that this was an oversight, and in no way represents his interpretation of the act.

If Schreiber wants to stand with his legal advice and say "no contravention of the act" then yeah, I'm gonna have a real hard time swallowing that.

Getting him to answer the question at all will be the fun part.

Paul has a solid base, and Farmer loyalists are not so concerned about transparency in government (or if they are, they're not paying close attention to what actually transpires in City Hall). If he feeds them the right lines, he'll skate in regardless.

Its up to the citizens who want transparency in government to make a big enough stink to make Paul earn their vote, or to topple him.

Paul Schreiber said...

Hi Rod,

The YHC closed sessions were called to discuss pending litigation and the executive director's annual performance review. These are permissible reasons to call closed sessions under the Open Meetings Act.

Best Regards,
Paul Schreiber

Rod said...

Hi Paul,

Not so fast....

From the minutes of the January meeting.

"Adjourned to Closed Session at 7:56 p.m. per Open Meetings Act Sec
15.268(a) to discuss City Building Department Violation/Registration
"


Please explain how the discussion of building department violations comes under any heading of the Open Meetings Act.

The citation covers the discussion of the employee review, which is not mentioned in the purpose statement for the closed meting.

The open meetings act speciffically allows for consultation with an attorney under specific circumstances. (15.268 (e))

There is no mention, either in the minutes of the meeting in general or in the purpose statement for the closed session, that the YHC attorney was either present or available for consultation on that matter.

I'm not an attorney, but unless you are in some deep do-do, I don't expect you are going to trial over code violations, and if those violations constitute "pending littigation" under the act, then I'd want to know how your settlement stategy would be adversely affected by a public meeting?

At very least, your clerk needs a talking to, and at worst, you made a mistake.

Making a mistake is not the end of the world, but covering a mistake up with double-speak is something we have had far too much of in this City, and I watched the people of Parkview pay a huge price for that a year or more ago...

Parkview earned you some kudos with me, but this little sideshow is something I find less than tasteful. I'll loan you the benefit of the doubt, but you're gonna have to do better than that.

Take Care

Rod