County should conduct public business in public

Challenge to shooting range ordinance wasn’t litigation

Posted 9/25/19

Here for Leader readers’ review is a copy of the letter we sent to Jefferson County.

We objected to the commission’s decision to discuss in private the Growth Management Hearings …

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County should conduct public business in public

Challenge to shooting range ordinance wasn’t litigation

Posted

Here for Leader readers’ review is a copy of the letter we sent to Jefferson County.

We objected to the commission’s decision to discuss in private the Growth Management Hearings Board’s rejection of the county’s latest shooting range ordinance.

Jefferson County issued a press release late Monday, Sept. 23, announcing the Commission emerged from its sealed chamber to vote, not having allowed the public the benefit of hearing each elected representative’s deliberations on the matter.

Sept. 23, 2019
Philip Morley,
Administrator
Jefferson County

Mr. Morley,

We were told by a county official that one of the reasons the Jefferson County Commission withdrew to executive session today was to discuss its response to the recent Growth Management Hearings Board decision, which declared the county’s shooting ranges ordinance out of compliance with state land use planning standards.

If the Commission conducted a private discussion of the ruling and the ordinance, we object.

The purpose of executive sessions (as rare exceptions to the presumed openness of government) is not to protect local officials from scrutiny, embarrassment nor awkwardness.

The righteous purpose of the “litigation exemption” to the Open Meetings Law was to protect taxpayers from needless waste of tax dollars. Allowing local government, when engaged in litigation, to develop strategy without tipping its hand to courtroom opponents is sensible, particularly when cash remedies are being sought and taxpayers want government to pay out as little as possible.

But the Growth Management Hearings Board is only quasi-judicial. And in this case, it was asked to rule on the form of a Jefferson County ordinance and not on the application of it to a specific property or activity.

In other words, there is no direct financial impact on taxpayers nor quarrel with a specific party. No taxpayer interest is protected by      this secrecy.

Quite the opposite. County commissioners should be robustly on the record about what they plan to do to address the flaws in their work that were cited by the Hearings Board.

We request a copy of the recording of the meeting. If no recording was made, we request a copy of the minutes, plus a copy of the ordinance that permits executive sessions to be held with no recording. If the county keeps a log of redactions and erasures of county commission meeting recordings, we request a copy of that log, from Sunday, Sept. 15 forward.

We further request a heads-up about any public meetings at which the commission will discuss its response to the Growth Management Hearing   Board’s decision.

-Dean Miller

(The Leader’s Editorials are the opinion of the Editorial Board: Publisher Lloyd Mullen; co-owner Louis Mullen; Editor Dean Miller and Leader readers who lobby The Leader. Each editorial is signed by the person who writes that editorial on behalf of the Editorial Board.)

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Tom Camfield

'"No taxpayer interest is protected by this secrecy."

Aye, that's' it in a nutshell. In this particular case, the entire shooting range issue has been one hot potato, and anything related to it should be out in the open whenever possible. I hope the public generally agrees with me in feeling protected from chicanery of any sort by the presence of at least a reporter in the room during discussion of all manner of things, including this.

The only ones protected by unnecessary secrecy are the ones who might benefit from such secrecy.

When it comes to meetings of public officials, when voices are silenced or ears are plugged, we all lose. As I write these lines, Donald Trump is holding a press conference on TV trying to cover his butt, giving HIS VERSION on what was said at various times in various places to which the press was not allowed—and disparaging the press in every way possible with charges of fakery. That, people, is the old propaganda ploy known as "transference of guilt"—by the real faker, employing Free Speech to arouse disrespect for Freedom of the Press.

Wednesday, September 25