Dear City Council members:
Please add me to the list of people who are unhappy with your decision to veil the Neighborhood Relations Committee's activities from public view. The Press-Citizen was right on target with its advice to reverse this decision, as was the Gazette. Those articles aptly pointed out the flimsy reasoning the majority of Council presented as its basis for this decision. The Gazette also pointed to Iowa Code Chapter 21, which seems to illumine a flimsy legal basis for this decision. This piqued my curiosity, so I skimmed through Chapter 21. I wonder how long it will take before someone challenges Dilkes' opinion that the NRC is not subject to the open meetings law.
The PC correctly pointed out that critics of NHRTF's proposals relied heavily on their meeting minutes. This was largely because of NHRTF's delay in publishing their final recommendations: minutes were the only source one could use to guess where this was going. Granted, the recommendations were released about five days before the forum, more time than required by law, but not enough time to get the ball rolling for a show of strength at the forum. I suppose NHRTF was expecting the usual poor attendance for their forum, after which the recommendations would breeze into law without a peep from anyone. They certainly seemed unprepared for the criticism they received.
I have to wonder if that kind of attention is what the City really hopes to avoid in hiding the actions of the NRC. If no one can find out what they're doing, they can't be criticized, hmm? Maybe so, but the Council certainly can and will be criticized, and deservedly so.
The Press-Citizen observed that NHRTF's original proposals seemed to be the sort of approach people take when they assume they're dealing with their adversaries. Well, that assumption apparently hasn't changed. Secret meetings are definitely the sort of approach people take when they assume they're dealing with their adversaries. And since it was the Council's call, it's easy to assume that the majority of Councillors feel the same way. That makes me feel.... well, kind of adversarial. I prefer not to feel that way, but I'm getting pretty good at it.
One interesting point made in an Iowa Supreme Court ruling on the open meetings law was that the “Intent – declaration of policy” section of this chapter is important: This chapter seeks to assure, through a requirement of open meetings of governmental bodies, that the basis and rationale of governmental decisions, as well as those decisions themselves, are easily accessible to the people. Ambiguity in the construction or application of this chapter should be resolved in favor of openness.
Good advice, and the Council would do well to heed it.