Sunshine Week open government discussion forum

Via e-mail from a reader:

The Albemarle City Council and the Albemarle Planning Board have a joint dinner meeting at a local restaurant to discuss business. At a later date the Albemarle Planning Board holds a public meeting and recommends action to the city. This may pass the open meetings law but I doubt many citizens show up
at a dinner meeting. Why does the City Council need a monthly dinner meeting with the Planning Board?

Before we begin to explore this, I want to encourage readers to take part in the discussion, and we'll use this thread as a meeting room. Leave the door open when you come in, as it has a bad habit of sticking there where the door casing has been painted over so many times. Did I carry that analogy too far? ;) Anyway, here's my take (as a newly-minted Planning Board member) on the question above:

This may be completely innocent, at least as far as intent. It may be nothing more than an excuse to get together at a favorite restaurant. If that is the case, then somebody needs to advise them of the ethical quandary they may have inadvertently raised. Here's the deal:

The City Council and the Planning Board are two separate entities for a reason. Several reasons actually, but the main one has to do with checks and balances. Looking at issues from two different angles, as it were. Granted, the City Council doesn't have to follow the recommendations of the Planning Board, which (in most cases) serves in merely an advisory capacity. But the citizens perceive their relationship to be at least semi-autonomous, and the Charter usually backs that up.

All that being said, there is very often an enormous amount of information involved in issues under review by the municipality, much of it required by state or local statutes and rules, and neither entity can do their jobs properly without it. So there must be a mechanism for the dissemination and/or sharing of that information, and for the proper consideration of questions that inevitably arise from a blizzard of paperwork that is riddled with techno-speak.

While it might seem, to the average person who isn't baked in the oven of public administration, that the best way to navigate this course is to get together en-masse and hash these things out, that actually defeats the purpose of having two separate entities. And it opens the door (even more) for influence-wielding by interested and determined parties.

I hope I've answered the "why" and provided a bonus "why you shouldn't" to the reader's message. But that is just my opinion, and if I'm wrong, it won't be the first time this week. ;)

Comments

Sunlight

Sunlight is the great disinfectant and works without exception. I find it disappointing and infuriating that those who would complain about special treatment for some gobble up that privilege from the vantage point of elected or appointed office.

Fritz Pardue

The web of Koch money gets more complicated

Raw Story has a long piece this morning about a new tactic being used by the Koch's to disguise the flow of campaign funds and advocacy money they're floating around - they're creating LLCs that leave no trail of public disclosure.

Maybe it's just me, but this is all starting to sound like outright money laundering for illegal activity.

Bring on the video

Not surprisingly, NC lags behind many in video coverage of the Legislature:

One glaring gap in North Carolina state government’s transparency efforts is the lack of video coverage of the General Assembly. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 30 states currently provide some manner of televised coverage of state legislative proceedings. North Carolina remains the largest state in the country to not do so.

North Carolina wouldn’t have to provide televised coverage though to make strides in this area. With today’s technology it would be an even easier solution to provide live and archived video of the General Assembly online. Unfortunately, North Carolina is one of only eight states to not provide any form of video coverage whatsoever.

While the state doesn’t provide any video coverage of the legislature, it does provide audio of House and Senate floor sessions along with two committee meeting rooms. In addition, VoterRadio.com, a service of the N.C. Center for Voter Education, provides live streaming of committee meetings, floor sessions and other important events around the capital. To date, VoterRadio.com is also the only source of archived audio of both the House and Senate floor sessions and committee meetings.

More on Lee County Commissioners'

incredibly stupid idea to hold a town hall in a gated community:

"Some members of the public, including Lee County Commissioner Amy Dalrymple, were turned away from a public town hall held within the private Carolina Trace Gated Properties Friday night," the Sanford Herald reported about a March 9 meeting. "To enter the gated properties – and subsequently the 7 p.m. town hall meeting at the Carolina Trace Clubhouse, organized by the Lee County Board of Commissioners – individuals were asked to give their name to the guards at the entrance of Carolina Trace. Dalrymple, among others, refused to give her name or any other identifying information because she said being required to provide a name violates North Carolina's Open Meetings laws."

After getting emails from several folks upset about this meeting and talking at length with one of them, I requested the documents related to the meeting. On first blush, they didn't clear up my questions.

Consider the first notice of the meeting, which read in part: "The purpose of the meeting is to provide a briefing on what the Board of Commissioners have accomplished this past year and receive comments as to where citizens believe the Board should concentrate efforts in the upcoming budget year. Since the meeting is being held in a gated community, only residents from Carolina Trace will be allowed to attend."

The general public? We don't need no stinking general public...

Strangely enough,

While the first conversation about the proposed town hall occurred in September:

INTRODUCTIONS: Mr. Forgione introduced Trudy Forest – CTFD Coordinator. He also introduced Lee County Commissioners Charles Park and Kirk Smith.

Mr. Park explained he represents the north side of Trace, Mr. Smith is a commissioner-at-large, and Andre Knecht, who could not be present, represents the south side of Trace. He stated that the purpose of attending this meeting was to ask CTA to sponsor a “town meeting” in either October of November. At this meeting the commissioner would give a synopsis of accomplishments during the past year and give goals for 2014 and to allow people to ask questions. Anyone interested in knowing what has been discussed in the past can log onto the Lee County web site: www.LeeCountyNC.gov.

And subsequent updates were discussed in October and November, December's meeting minutes are missing:

The page you requested is NOT AVAILABLE

A general error has occurred

Yes, a general error has definitely occurred.