Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Standard-Examiner: Secret Ballots On Ogden City Council's Agenda

Lets make a special effort today, Weber County Forum readers, to ensure that secrecy-minded elements of our City Council don't begin dowsing the light of government transparency tonight

On the heels of Sunday's Weber County Forum article, which focuses on matters concerning tonight's Council consideration of Kevin Garn's Hot Tub Hotel project, this morning's Standard-Examiner shifts our attention to yet another important item included on the Council agenda this evening, namely "whether to switch to secret straw poll balloting to nominate and tentatively choose its chairman and vice chairman." Read Mr. Schwebke's full story here:
In our view, this is but one of two troubling items under consideration by the Council, as it sets out tonight to tinker with the body of procedural rules know as "Rules of Procedure and Council Norms." For a brief but incisive explanation of the two items which we find to be objectionable, we'll incorporate the text of a Dan S. comment lodged on Sunday under our previous Council meeting article, with which arguments we are in 100% agreement:
There's another very troubling item on the council agenda. They're proposing to revise their own procedural rules in several respects. Some are innocuous, but two of the revisions would establish procedures for unnecessary and undesirable secrecy:

1. The council is proposing to elect its chair and vice chair by secret ballot, rather than through open nominations and votes. Nominations and votes would be by anonymous written ballots, conducted during a study session prior to the meeting. After the new chair and vice chair have been identified by a majority of these anonymous votes, a final yes/no ratification vote would be taken during the formal meeting. This procedure would deprive the public of knowing the preferences of their elected representatives for these crucial leadership positions. Secret ballots are appropriate only for public elections, not for votes taken by elected representatives.

2. Council members would be prohibited from disclosing the content of legal opinions provided to them by the city attorney's office or by outside attorneys. This rule would deprive the public of knowing the legal basis of many city council decisions, and would allow the city to keep a great deal of information secret under the guise of "attorney-client privilege". The proposed rule is a perverse corruption of the concept of attorney-client privilege, which actually imposes confidentiality requirements on attorneys, not on their clients. Even in a lawsuit, while an attorney cannot share legal opinions with anyone except his or her own client, it is perfectly permissible, and often advantageous, for the client to share these opinions with the opposing party. Mayor Godfrey has released legal opinions to the press in the past, most notably in July 2009 when he released a legal opinion outlining his alleged authority to use his line-item veto on policy language in the FY 2010 budget regarding the Marshall White Center and other city recreation facilities. If the mayor has the discretion to share legal opinions with the public when he feels this is strategically advantageous, then city council members should also have that discretion. But more importantly, there are many instances in which the public deserves to know what legal advice the city council is getting.

Let's hope the council members come to their senses on these items by Tuesday.
For a full recitation of all proposed amendments to our Ogden City Council's "Rules of Procedure and Council Norms," follow this link to tonight's City Council packet:
In recent years our city council has plainly made significant strides toward increased public transparency; and in our view, the Council's proposed adoption of these two procedural amendments, which would place deliberations about council leadership votes and attorney opinions under a disturbing cloak of secrecy, represent a significant step backwards. As Dan S. aptly remarks, we can only hope that our council members (namely Council members Gochnour and Stephensen) "come to their senses on these items by Tuesday."

If you'd like to chime in on the subject, and to join us in voicing your objections to these two ill-conceived procedural amendments, please contact our council members, via the contact link below:
It's been a short four years since Councilwoman Dorrene Jeske "concentrated on the need to make Ogden City Government accessible to the citizens, and, as she put it, "let some light in." And to this end... produced flashlights for all the council members, to remind them that the local government's dealings should be out in the light."

Lets make a special effort today, Weber County Forum readers, to ensure that secrecy-minded elements of our City Council don't begin dowsing the light of government transparency tonight.

We'll leave the lights on in our lower comments section of course, for any Weber County Forum readers who'd like to comment on this topic before, during or after tonight's City Council/RDA meeting events.

Update 12/22/10 3:40 a.m.: Both the Standard-Examiner and the Salt Lake Tribune carry stories this morning reporting on the results of last night's Council/RDA meetings:
 Update 12/28/10 8:00 p.m.: View the full Council and RDA videos, via the Ogden City website:
12/21 City Council-RDA Special Session
12/21 City Council Regular Session

41 comments:

althepal said...

It becomes increasingly clear that Councilwoman Gochnour is not only unfit for council leadership, but for general council service as well.

GUESSWHOIVOTEDFOR said...

The day Ogden City no longer needs tax dollars from city residents should be the only qualifier for this type of policy to be implemented. Would Blain Johnson's voting record as a councilman be of value to the attorney general in the ongoing investigation into his alleged campaign contribution scandal? Don't we vote for people who share our values and views? Concealing this information is ludicrous. Anyone voting for or supporting "secret ballots" should forfeit the right to use the word transparency in all their future rhetoric and campaigns.
Government = Elected Officials = By Constituents = Tax Dollars = Transparency

blackrulon said...

Off topic- I read a story in the Tribune(12-21-2010) concerning hotel vacancy rates. It noted that Ogdens occupancy rate for 2009 was 45.7%. The rate for November was 45.1%. Why do we need a new hotel when over half of the available rooms are vacant?

googlegirl said...

After bleak ’09, most Utah hotels see improvement

ozboy said...

Apparently the batteries in Jeske's flashlights have worn down and become very dim - just like some of the council members themselves!

Only scoundrels and Godfreyites scurry around and conduct the public's business in the dark and out of sight of the public.

Moroni McConkie said...

Fifty years from now, how will the savants of the WSU history department chronicle Ogden's Godfrey years? Allow me to interpolate, borrowing from some of Garry Wills's titles: The Godfrey Imprisonment? Godfrey Agonistes?

Curious 1 said...

Off topic but how are the mayors main boosters doing, the Geigers? Will they close their jibjab yard if they tear down their playground on Keisel? Waiting in the wings for the next election?

I only see the developers who want large contracts supporting the mayor. Jeff Lowe quiet, Tom Moore quiet, "G" Train Wilkerson quiet, what happened to his cheer leading squad, or are they all meeting in secret?

Danny said...

Excellent question, Curious 1.

Jibyard, the business started by one of the Geiger boys, with taxpayer money fronted to them by their mommy who works for Godfrey, also with taxpayer money, lasted a short time before going ... wait for it ... belly up.

The Geigers are selling, or trying to sell, pressurized Camelback hiking hydration packs. You can see one in the G4G store across from the new tool stores by the Megaplex - a small display in a small store. They are still in town because Unemployment Extension passed, guaranteeing another year of money to America's non-working. The Geigers, simply put, are still here, on the Federal "dole".

Speaking of which, G4G and another store on Washington across from the Junkshun, both are owned by the same guy and sell the same things. Both are taxpayer subsidized sinkholes that will be gone this time next year.

Gadi Leshem is gone too, Wilkerson is quiet, and so is Moore and Lowe. Why?

Well, the money ran out, that's why. Why ask where all the pigeons and starlings went, when you can see for yourself all the grain is gone and only a pile of poop remains?

The old parasites are gone, but Kevin Garn is a big enough pigeon to replace them all.

you who said...

And on another sad note. I understand that the Locally owned and operated Stop and Shop at 12th and Washington is closing their doors in January.

I guess that they didnt get any handouts from the local city government when they helped with the Wal Mart and Winco stores. Now a local tradition is going away and adding another empty building on 12th street.

Too bad.

Dan S. said...

The demise of Stop and Shop due to Winco was completely predictable and foreseen. Next I predict that the Shopko next door will close its doors after Walmart opens.

The main lesson here, I think, is that the Godfrey administration shouldn't brag too loudly about its efforts to bring new big box stores to Ogden.

In the case of Walmart, though, I'm not aware of any outright subsidies. The city did help by rezoning the property in advance.

you who said...

Dan, they did help Godfreys' criminal Buddy in strong arming property owners to sell their property to Gadi, with the help of City Employees.

South Bench said...

Winco is a great store. Good service, the lowest prices in the county, and close enough to downtown to make it a done deal.

Of course, Harmons produce is way better as far as quality goes, and Harmons service is the Standard.

Smiths is a dump, overpriced, pretending to be a boutique store, with the worst customer service in Utah. I have no idea what people see in it, other than the name, "Smith", which is the Mormon name for the uber-sombrero messages from the Magic Hat.

I only wish they had built Winco where they are putting in the wall mart.
I cant wait to see the line up of panhandlers and day laborers on the street out side wallmart.
It is going to be an Ogden Classic.

Curmudgeon said...

SB:

Don't know which Smith's you're familiar with, but we shop regularly at the one on Harrison near WSU. They've got some good people there, and the customer service is just fine so far as I can see. They took real good care of The Geezer [Grandma Curmudgeon] when she still drove [quit at 91] and hobbled into the store on her own three or four times a week. Still greet and help her out every trip now that we bring her. One of their druggists saved her a bundle, telling her of an alternative medicine for 4 bucks a month in lieu of the one she was taking for over 100 a month. Dr. authorized the switch. Now that's customer service.

Prices are better than Albertsons/Fresh Market, consistently. Winco may offer more, but it's a long drive for a small family's food shopping for us.

The point: competing stores generally have different things different folks like about them. No need to disparage one store because you happen to prefer another.

PS: Your guess at why Smith's stays in business would have zero meaning for this non LDS shopper.

Dan S. said...

Looks like there will be some last-minute changes to the council secrecy rules. See this new Trib article:

Ogden may make legal advice, leadership votes secret

Dan S. said...

I'm at the council study session now, Van Hooser has asked about the attorney-client communication issue.

Williams responds: This language is not viewed as a change in policy. It's been this way for decades. "Attorney client privilege protection has enjoyed 400 years of protection..." "It's an absolute right that's been protected for centuries." "The key is who's my client." "My client is Ogden City. There are sometimes sub-clients..." (e.g. mayor on behalf of administration). "What happens when the client is the city itself? That's when this policy comes into play... How do you waive that right, which is not the right of an individual city council person. Most other cities will require a majority vote of the city council to disclose something that's protected..."

Dan S. said...

Williams: "I believe that you have a duty to the body you're represented (to disclose certain communications)..." Some cities have made it a crime for council members to disclose things. "There are unintended consequences" when one council member chooses to disclose something... When one item is disclosed, a court could decide that other related information isn't protected either.

Williams: It doesn't much matter what the rules say, because the duty is there regardless.

Dan S. said...

Williams: Mayor can choose to disclose legal advice when the administration is the client; council can similarly choose [as a whole] to do so when the council is the client. There's also a procedure to solicit written legal opinions for the purpose of public disclosure.

Dan S. said...

All council members except Wicks are currently here. They're now reviewing the rest of the agenda.

Dan S. said...

Junction hotel project discussion: Parking structure has been removed from project, along with "associated funding sources" (according to Eller-Smith).

Addenda to development agreement: Scenario on what happens if New Market Tax Credits aren't obtained...

Wicks just came in so all the council members are now here.

Dan S. said...

Bureaucrat is trying to explain Hot Tub Hotel financial shell game...

ND said...

tia Dan....great to have someone on the scene call all the action...is the SE gumshoe there taking copius notes?

Dan S. said...

ND: Yes, Mr. Schwebke is here; can't see what he's doing.

Study session has adjourned. Unfortunately, I can't stay for much of the formal meeting.

Dan S. said...

Regular meeting is underway, with everyone present including mayor, CAO, etc.

Wicks moves to remove rule changes from "common consent"; Van Hooser seconds and it passes unanimously. Now they can actually discuss the item.

Looks like they'll take public input so I may need to get up and say something.

Dan S. said...

The attorney-client privilege language is being changed to say "should not be disclosed" instead of "may not be disclosed".

Dan S. said...

Ok, I said my piece.

Gochnour's response: "This is the one time when it's appropriate ... to have a private ballot." Alludes to recent Utah constitutional amendment.

Stephenson also defends secret ballot process. Council members need to feel free to nominate and vote however they wish (i.e., in secret). Ratification will still be public.

Wicks: "I have a different opinion about that. We don't take straw polls for anything else."

Van Hooser agrees with Wicks.

Stephenson moves to adopt the (revised) rule changes. Stephens seconds. Chair never asks if there is any further discussion or amendments. All vote in favor except Wicks and Van Hooser.

Next agenda item is presentation of annual financial report. (Is it online yet? Could be fun reading!)

Good night, all--gotta leave now!

Jennifer said...

Danny
“Gadi Leshem is gone, too, Wilkerson is quiet, and so are Moore and Lowe. Why?”

I dunno about those other guys, but Lowe is busy with worthwhile endeavors: namely (click here)

helping put together a documentary about the one amazing feat he accomplished that no man has been able to follow – and to do that before the debilitating illness that has him by the short hairs takes him out of this life and into the next. That amazing feat being his personal completion (as in all the way to the top) the ascent of the North Face of the Eiger in 9 days in winter, on his route he dubbed Metanoia, which means “a transformative change of heart; a fundamental change of thinking.”

Ironically, metanoia may be one thing lacking in the stagnant Ogden City Administration/Council’s whole big picture right now. They are stuck in a rut and need something barely short of a miniature nuclear strike on their favorite city-owned vehicle or pet project to get them on a path up and out. Ogden City’s elected officials need a swift kick in their collective arses to motivate them towards a fundamental change of thinking.

Remember, 'fundamental' at its root is simple,: a basic principle, rule, law, or the like, that serves as the groundwork of a system; essential part.
*****
@South Bench: you may not have shopped at the Smith’s at the North end of town. I was in South ogden Smith’s today, and people weren’t much helpful to me either. But I love the one in North Ogden. I also shop at Stop & Shop and Wangsgards … The only thing I EVER bought at the new Winco was some lobster tails because of the cheap grand opening price (and they weren’t that good, either) – I have not been back since. When I did go, I got herded one way with my cart and got immediately stuck behind about 14 fat ladies who stopped to look at every can on the shelf and it took me 20 minutes to get to the first aisle I wanted to go to.
Winco Sucks – especially for putting Stop & Shop out of business! It’s principles, and I believe in shopping local and supporting our local economy, even when our mayor takes most of it for his pet projects, at least some local people benefit. Winco HQ is not local, so their profits do not benefit Ogden one iota.

TLJ

David S. said...

I wrote a letter (after reading about the issue here) expressing my disagreement with the disclosure rule. Amy Wicks replied to me that she did not support it either. Amy is a continuing ray of light.

Here is my letter.

Council Members,

This is to express my concern with consideration of a rule prohibiting you from disclosing legal advice to the public. In general, I oppose the council members “tying their own hands”, or otherwise limiting themselves in their functions. Worse, is the idea of a majority of council members being able to constrain a minority of council members in what they may do in performance of their elected office. It is remarkable that you could be considering limiting the first amendment rights of any present or future council member, assuming it is even legal for you to do so!

Speaking of which, we know that the mayor uses the city attorney as his personal legal concierge. You, as a council, have opened the windows of government with your posting of information packets. I would observe, this has done little to harm city operations and on the contrary, seems to have quieted some criticism, which sometimes sprang from mistrust of the typically closed, back door dealings of the Godfrey Administration.

This proposed rule steps onto the slippery slope for Godfrey to re-establish his dark, deceptive preference for doing things, by allowing him to close the windows of Ogden City at his whim, on the nonsensical claim of his legal lackeys that they are passing a “legal opinion” so therefore, you can’t tell anybody about it – “it” being whatever he chooses to so designate.

After opening the information passageways, why would you now close them, tying your own hands? Indeed, can you even do so legally? Were I on the council, I would refuse to follow any such rule anyway, since nobody has any business telling me what information I could pass to my constituents. If people want to operate in secret, they should get out of public life and get into the private sector, where such secrecy is permissible. If an attorney offers an opinion to the council, the public has a right to know what it is.

Thanks,

David Smith

Curmudgeon said...

Does The Gochnour Rule [we get to vote in secret just this one time, and it's ok because we want to] violate the state's open meetings law? And if not, why not?

Have to admit, Caitlin "It's None Of The People's Damn Business How We Vote For Council Leaders Unless We Consent to Let Them Know" Gochnour has been a big disappoint on the Council. We may have differed on specific policy votes and fair enough, but transparency... doing the public's business in public... is a fundamental principle of good governance. NO council member who does not grasp that should be entrusted with the public's confidence.

No council member.

Dan S. said...

Curmudgeon for City Council!

OgdenLover said...

I second that!

Curmudgeon said...

Off topic.... or maybe not. Right now, as I type, [10 PM Tues], 6 of the 10 main entries on what the SE claims is the newspaper's blogsite consist of Hatch or Bishop unedited press releases.

Six of the ten.

Which raises the question, I think, of whether it's really the Standard Examiner's blog site, or is it the Utah Republican Party's blogsite, on which SE writers are occasionally permitted to post as well.

[NB: To be honest, I can't say how visited the Hatch/Bennett press releases are or how many comments they draw, since I won't click through to any of them, because they're not blogs housed at the SE's site, but merely press flack releases designed to make the Boss look good. ]

Dan S. said...

The Trib article, linked above, has been rewritten to describe the meeting in the past tense. Vote on Hot Tub Hotel was also 5-2, with Wicks and Van Hooser against.

South Bench said...

TLJ

LOL.

That is exactly what my mate says!

SB

althepal said...

Having read last night's comments, and this morning's two northern Utah print media stories, it becomes blatantly apparent that there's a self-centered faction of five on our Ogden City Council who are a hell of a lot more concerned about their personal comfort levels, than in providing open and transparent government for their Ogden City constituents.

K. Trout said...

It appears increasingly likely that there was a backroom deal between the Cabal of Five, the mayor guy, and Chris Petersen.

Here it comes again...

Paul B said...

It seems that we are only hearing about Stephenson, Gouchner, Wicks and VanHooser on this "let's take the public's business secret" BS. Where does the other three stand - other than voting for it. What about the new Blair kid? Does he ever say anything? Does he ever take a stand on anything? What the heck is he doing there anyway?

I can see why Stephenson might want the leadership voted for in secret. He has been such a total suck up to the mayor every day he has been on the council. I think he has been on there longer than any one else yet he has never been elected to either leadership position inspite of his trying a number of times. Maybe he thinks if the vote is secret that he can squeak into one of the positions if the other council members don't have to let the public know they voted for him?

can't wait for the 2011 elections said...

Gochnour's kind of like former Councilman Safsten, without the pretension of Mormon Priesthood holiness, but with the same genitalia.

Curmudgeon said...

State Liquor Store to close early on Christmas eve! Closing at six instead of regular closing hour. [Don't get caught short on the day.]


By god, I don't know what's happened to the work ethic in this country. Closing the state hooch emporia early on Christmas eve? What would the pioneers think of us? Did Davy Crocket and Dan'l Boone knock off rasslin' bears, trappin' beavers and stealing land from injuns early on Xmas eve? I think not!

Don't know what's happenin' to this country. Republicans win a Congressional election and standards go straight to hell....

Biker Babe said...

Curmy

LOL

BB

Pearl said...

Curm

To hell with the liquor store, what time do the pharmacies close? You are in Utah in case you forgot!

OneWhoKnows said...

Do we really need more secrets from the Ogden administration, or have we all finally had enough?

Post a Comment

© 2005 - 2013 Weber County Forum™ -- All Rights Reserved