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May 21, 2013 7:43 am

EDITORIAL: Dialogue should be encouraged at public meetings

Written by Tessa Schweigert

At two recent public meetings, officials avoided public comment on separate issues that clearly mattered to local residents. Ignoring the elephant in the room may be easier, but even when the elephant seems especially big, we believe it’s better to confront it head-on.

At last week’s school board meeting, officials refused to allow public comments surrounding perhaps the most controversial issue the board has faced this year: the firing of the Powell High School boys’ basketball coach.

School officials clearly cannot discuss personnel issues. That’s the law.

However, when a couple citizens asked to address the status of the basketball program in the wake of the dismissal, they were told the school board only allows public comment on agenda items.

We believe as a general rule, residents who show up at public meetings should be heard, regardless of whether the topic is on the agenda.

We can recall examples where the Powell City Council, Park County Commission and Northwest College Board of Trustees have allowed or invited public comments on topics that weren’t on their original agendas.

That’s how it should be.

We can understand the fear that public comments could take an entire night, but time limits can help solve that problem. Having too much input from local residents is certainly a better problem than having too little.

Earlier this month, local legislators at a Park County Republican Party meeting ignored another elephant in the room. Citing advice from legal counsel, legislators refused to talk about controversial Senate File 104 — the bill that stripped many duties from the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. While legislators had openly talked about the bill for months, they suddenly clammed up at the meeting.

Expecting an audience generally opposed to the legislation, and knowing the bill is being challenged before the Wyoming Supreme Court, Sen. Hank Coe had asked the Wyoming Attorney General’s office if he should speak about Senate File 104. In what’s now being described as a misunderstanding, Coe brought away the message that he should not discuss the bill at the meeting given the pending litigation.

Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips has since clarified that legislators were and are free to say whatever they want about the bill.

“Legislators need to be able to communicate with their constituents,” Phillips told the Tribune. “The litigation is secondary to that.”

We agree. Going forward, we hope legislators choose to proactively look for opportunities to discuss the topics that matter most to their constituents — even among people who disagree with them.

Residents are best served by elected leaders who listen and work with them. Even when it’s tough.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link May 23, 2013 4:20 pm posted by clipstein

    maybe with a new mayor this will happen and not get shouted down like with the former mayor

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