City Council opposed to openness in government? (Times-Call guest opinion, published 9/10/09)

Wow, it has been a busy couple weeks in town on the 1st Amendment front for the City Council Bloc of 4 and its surrogates! Both the city and its supporters are suddenly actively seeking to prevent and stifle exchange of information and free expression of ideas.

In an attempt to disenfranchise the citizens of Longmont by eschewing a public, permanent record of city business as called for by the city charter, they’ve called to quit publishing city notices in the newspaper. Instead, they are tossing around the idea of internet only, or putting it in the City Line with your electric bill (which only comes once a month, I believe). 

The council claims that it would save the city some much needed cash to overlook that particular rule in the charter. Of course that makes me wonder how much more money could be saved if they cut their already expensive– and still mounting–losses by dropping the appeal of their court loss to Firestone and also releasing the tapes of their secret meetings about that appeal rather than pay legal fees to defend against yet another lawsuit. But that’s another article…

Let’s get something straight. Reading a Times-Call editorial about why it is so important for the city council to continue to publish city notices in our local paper may be less than persuasive.  After all, the TC has a dog in this hunt. Pulling the notices would mean lost revenue. I’m here to give you the citizen’s argument on why it is utterly important to have public, permanent records published in hard copy format from a source other than the government.

First, this is baldly discriminatory. Not all people have access to the internet, and this would particularly effect low-income households and seniors. By refusing to follow city charter and publish the notices in a newspaper the city council disenfranchises citizens and creates an undue hardship in obtaining information. Bad! I would like to think this obvious fact is oversight by the four council members (Benker, McCoy, Levison and Hansen) pushing for this, as anything else could really call into question their motives. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on that.

Secondly, and in my opinion most importantly, a physical record is crucial. The nature of the internet is inherently fluid.  Sources are nebulous at best. Navigating websites can be onerous. Links can be difficult to find, pages get lost, can be disabled and are open to hackers looking to amuse themselves or worse. Preeminently, it leaves open the possibility that public records can retroactively be tampered with or simply disappear, with no proof that there was even a change made. Corruption would be that much harder to trace.

 The newspaper is tangible evidence of public record, a physical manifestation of our history. Once printed, it cannot be changed. And if there happens to be a mistake, the paper is held accountable, a retraction or correction must be printed. That’s not the way of electronic communication. If something changes, just go in and delete it. If there’s a mistake, a couple strokes of the keys will in effect rewrite public record. 

At this point we have to wonder why the council would want to make it harder for the public to participate in local government. Their actions have repeatedly shown a reluctance to have the open, honest government they all campaigned on. They seem angry to have to share their information at all.  We have one councilman who is openly hostile to his constituents. They’ve had more “private” meetings than ever. They have shown general disregard to the sunshine laws meant to ensure accountability and transparency of government. And now they attempt to ignore the city charter. What’s next? They’ll hold city council meetings in total privacy and let us know the outcome?

As if our local government working to make it harder to track their movements weren’t enough, we now have a local activist, Richard Juday, proposing to start a group to monitor civility in local politics. I completely agree that the recent past has been rife with out-of-control mud-slinging. I was appalled at the depths to which groups like “What’s in it For Longmont” stooped in spreading misinformation and untruths about Lifebridge and its members as well as the repellant inappropriateness of the man who recently ad hominem attacked Councilman Santos at council. 

It is about time we self-appoint some arbiters of civility, freedom of speech and expression (you know, the First Amendment) be damned! That Mr. Juday doesn’t want to include any of the “usual suspects” is a great caveat, but I can only assume that by the inclusion of former city councilman (and current councilman Sean McCoy’s father) Tom McCoy, that close relatives of the “usual suspects” are, in fact, welcome.  Therefore, I would like to volunteer myself for this group. 

I feel my perspective as an independent conservative mother of three small children gives me a strong sense of dispensing “moral suasion” (the act of making others adhere to a policy by “pressure”, rather than “force”– yes, I had to google that one) and would be a useful counterweight to Mr. McCoy’s “progressive” ideas. Not to mention my dogged belief that all speech, even– no, especially, unpopular speech needs to be protected. Think of me as a watchdog to the watchdogs. 

I hope I hear from Mr. Juday soon about the first meeting. Perhaps he should advertise it in the paper to ensure a wide audience?

About Chris Rodriguez

Chris is the editor/publisher of LightningRod Blog - as well as founder/editor of Wrongmont, Longmont Advocate, Vote!Longmont, Longmont Politics, the LightningRod Radio Network, as well as being the original Longmont Examiner. Chris is a writer and talker - whether it be blogs, podcasts, music, or public speaking. When he's not heard on Air Traffic radio, he can be heard on his podcasts or seen in the local paper causing trouble.
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