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February 28, 2012 8:43 am

EDITORIAL: Shedding daylight on lawmakers’ decisions

Written by Tessa Schweigert

During the Powell City Council meeting last week, a city employee made a comment that was especially refreshing in light of some legislators’ recent attempts to restrict public access to information.

“If you have any questions, contact us, absolutely. That’s why we’re public employees. We work for you,” Gary Butts, city public services manager, told residents who gathered last Tuesday night to hear about an upcoming street renovation project.

Unfortunately, not every public official in Wyoming realizes they’re working for the people, nor are they willing to be up front with information.

Last week, Wyoming senators approved an amended bill that would have allowed government agencies to withhold records or input that public officials use to make final decisions. It also would have allowed communication to a public official or among officials to be hidden from the public if it wasn’t among a quorum of the members.

To our legislators’ credit, senators later removed that amendment.

Information and conversations leading to decisions must remain open to the public. Transparency strengthens our democracy at every level.

Hiding pre-decisional information can only leave us with the assumption that there is, in fact, something to hide.

Some legislators also are worried about how the media reports on public officials and their decisions.

“You have a third party, who’s got the power of paper and ink, telling you how you should think because it’s in your pre-decision,” said Sen. Kit Jennings, R-Casper.

The last time we read the First Amendment, an independent press was an established part of our great nation’s democratic process. And surely we all realize that public officials are able to think and make decisions on their own, regardless of what the press says or wants.

But it’s not just about the media. Every Wyoming citizen deserves access to information that leads to public decisions. After all, taxpayers’ dollars are paying public employees’ salaries and funding these decisions.

“This is about public process, public involvement and letting the community know … (it’s) giving people confidence in what’s going on and removing that curtain and the shadow of doubt. That’s what this is about,”  said Sen. Leland Christensen, R-Alta.

If a public official is truly working for the best interest of the people, then he or she should want the public to see all the information they considered.

If that information is distorted later — whether through rumors or in the media — then citizens can easily go back and see the truth for themselves. It’s in everyone’s best interest to see how decisions are actually reached.

When information is open to the public and accessible, citizens can then make their own judgments.

It keeps us all honest.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link February 28, 2012 4:33 pm posted by clipstein

    Man o Man things must be tough in Powell.....That is the first time We work for you!!!!!Wow now how about selling the pool, fiber for what they can get out of them and or else pony up the money they cost the taxpayers. And oh yes get the city bills back down where they should be..... show they care

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