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:
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: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: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."
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.
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:
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:
- Ogden OKs changes scrapping underground parking at hotel
- Ogden City Council votes to make legal advice off-limits to public