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The need for open government

September 13, 2012

At a recent public meeting county legislator Cindy Geiger initiated a conversation on the need for more open government. As was discussed, although the law permits elected members of one political party to exclude both the public and elected members of another from discussions of the public’s business (via the political caucus), such a loophole runs counter to good government in at least two important ways.

First, for many years the rhetoric from our county legislature has been to promote the accountability that can only result from deliberating public matters in public session. So excluding the public from those deliberations is at a minimum hypocritical. Accountability is important even when inconvenient.

Second, elected representatives of one political party who exclude those of another from discussing such matters also convey disrespect for thousands of county constituents represented by those they exclude.

Legislator Sorensen got it right when he explained just because you’re permitted to do something doesn’t make it wise to do so. And legislators Vetter and Geiger also got it right in saying that the business of deliberation works better when all elected officials are at the table. I concur, if only for selfish reasons, because I, like many county residents represented by minority legislators Sorensen and Vetter, can’t have my interests adequately considered if my duly elected representative is kept out of the loop on public matters.

Commonsense and law already provide for public matters of a sensitive nature to be discussed beyond public view—in executive session and inclusive of all county legislators. And the political caucus is an appropriate means for discussing narrower issues specific to a particular political party. You don’t show your poker hand to those you’re playing against. But when the election is over, it’s time to put partisanship aside.

We won’t all agree on everything, but county legislators who aren’t willing to defend their position in public need to reconsider the position they’re taking—or consider employing their skills elsewhere.

Dave Colavito

Rock Hill, NY