Thursday, July 1, 2010

Editorial board takes a stab at transparency

My name is Forest, Forest Gump and “I may not be a smart man but I know what transparency is” and it ain’t here in River City.

Thursday’s Roanoke Times editorial “Openness and tranparency” presses the two new council members to make good on their campaign promise of transparency and openness. The RTEB hints that the last council made progress in that regard. Phooey!

Council briefings are where most decisions are made. One could even argue voting takes place at briefings. Mayor Bowers makes verbal reference to it not being a vote. It’s just a “consensus” show of hands or grunt of approval – a go-ahead to city administration on a project direction.

“Public input” then follows and citizen’s exiting council chambers mumble “they already had their minds made up.” Imagine that.

Televised briefings were campaign promises in the last election too. After the new council took office the city manager then Burcham brought to council the cost and impediments to televising briefings in the EOC. If you ever wondered what EOC stands for it is the Emergency Operations Center – in case of a terrorist attack or natural disaster <snicker here if you like>.

Council members suggested the city manager look into taping briefings at a minimal hourly rate and have them replayed online. It was never revisited again.

The briefing room (the basement room 159 or EOC) is so crowded at times with television camera tripods and interested citizens you can’t get to the coffee pot <sigh>. Seriously citizens and staff  are bumping into each other. Media are jockeying for seats and shuffling microphones around the table.

Mayor Bowers leaned back in his chair so far one time he almost landed in my lap. And if you sit behind Councilman Court Rosen you can read his text messages <pointed sigh>. Cases are being made that text messaging during public meetings is open to FOIA requests. It seems citizens have become suspicious that council members are texting each other regarding agenda items.

Number one on the RTEB transparency list in Thursday’s editorial asked for closed session clarifications. Meaning name the “subject” of closed sessions before closing the door to citizens. Try arguing that point with the city attorney. Bill Hackworth doesn’t agree with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). No matter that the Virginia’s FOIA Advisory Council has consistently written opinions to the contrary – the city attorney just doesn’t happen to agree. I’ll try that tact with a judge and see how that works for me.

If the county can do it so can the city.

To end my little tirade let me paraphrase a member of the media. I asked why didn’t he threaten litigation to force FOIA compliance? I’ll never forget – he said, “we have to pick our battles.” If John Q. Public doesn’t care then we don’t care.

He had a point – if no one is clamoring for transparency then the vocal few that identify the FOIA transgressions are whistling in the wind.

I’m going to go pay my $64 dollars now for my FOIA request. I had to argue again about getting an estimate first.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Commentary

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