The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

May 9, 2013

Public meetings include periods for participation


Daily Item

---- — Elected officials regularly express impatience with regulations requiring open records and meetings and proper order for make the information available and accessible to the public.

Perhaps, with advances in communications and technology there are better and more flexible ways to govern in the open -- as in live web streaming from every local government where decisions about policy and spending are deliberated and decided.

In a recent vent about how they have been tripped up more than once by the open meetings requirements, Northumberland County Commissioners floated the idea of having a daily public meeting or opening the day as a public meeting, conducting all their business in the open and adjourning just before the closing bell.

Sometimes these notions represent spur of the moment ideas that do not square with legislation, public service and proper order. Wisely, before leaping, the commissioners asked a county solicitor to take a closer look.

In this instance, Commissioners Stephen Bridy and Vinny Clausi appeared to be in agreement, as they so often are, about how innovation and reform would improve government operation. In their discussions, however, the notable emphasis seemed to be on how it would improve their experiences as governors, not necessarily what it would do to improve the experience of the governed.

While they may be on a useful track, some of the fixes Northumberland County government has wandered into in the past may not have been because decisions move too slowly, but rather that a bias for action moved matters along before counterpoints could be developed and considered.

Experience shows, more often than not, that skeptics, critics and doubters have a constructive role in shaping progress, even if it means they temporarily slow it down. Our first ideas or impulses are not always ready for prime time, much less immediate implementation.

The goal of open meetings and open records, after all, is not merely the opportunity to form an audience for government in action, but to invite and permit participation.

A set schedule and step process for meetings where action can be proposed, discussion can be heard, votes cast and decisions made, may actually be better for public preparation and participation than governing all the time in a fish bowl where distinguishing what is important and decisive is difficult because it is mixed and mingle with expedience and emotion.