Prohibition on talking to other electeds is common

A few residents have heard my story about learning that I can't talk to more than two other council members at any time without being in a public meeting. And they've also heard me comment on how I feel about that - and felt about it when I learned about it.

Not that I ever think we are alone, but here's more evidence that we're not, as a town in Connecticut, just trying to get its grass cut, is held up by similar rules:
Killingworth’s governance is managed by a three-person Board of Selectmen. Should two of the three selectmen meet and discuss lawn mowing or any other aspect of town business, the gathering would constitute a quorum of the governing body and an illegal meeting, since its holding had not been posted in a public notice.

With Selectman Richard Cabral not available, and in order to get the lawn mowed, [Selectwoman Catherine] Iino had to post the special meeting so she legally could talk to [Selectman Fred] Dudek about it.

“When I became a selectman, I was told you can’t talk to the other selectmen,” Iino says. “I thought they were joking.”

“I understand the need for public access to deliberations, but with a three-person board, you just can’t have a working conversation,” she said. “It seems you ought to be able to have a conversation about running the town without violating the law.”
I have no objection to public notice requirements or meetings.  But I would love to see these rules updated for the 21st Century. Especially in a place like Connecticut where some of the communities and their rules literally date back nearly 300 years, the advent of audio and video recording, not to mention electronic notification of meetings can be treated as the evolutionary tools they are that can alleviate some of these scenarios and enhance and improve government efficiency.

1 comment:

Paul said...

I've been fighting the battle for transparency in our school district (in central Ohio) for a number of years. It was the practice of our School Board to rip through standard resolutions in a matter of minutes, then adjourn to executive session for hours. I called them out about this repeatedly, and finally at one point last year, it stopped. Executive sessions are now rarely and appropriately used, as I can attest as one who now gets to attend them.

No question that it would be simpler and more expedient to just be able to call/email/text other Board members to discuss and initiate action. I spent my career with a company who pioneered the use of electronic communications, first in the corporate world, and then in the consumer realm (I got my first email account in 1973). The primary selling point was the increase in productivity our services could bring to a corporation by connecting its people in a more efficient manner.

So I get it.

But corporations are not government. I believe it is a good thing when people have access to not only the 'what' their government officials decide, but also the 'why.' That may mean that at times efficiency is sacrificed for principle, but that's okay with me.

Perhaps the problem with this CT town is not the restrictions of sunshine laws as much as it is that they've not structured their government very effectively. Could they not pass a resolution budgeting a certain amount of money each year for lawn mowing, then appoint one of the Selectmen to take care of scheduling the actually mowings (maybe with a backup)? Why in this world would you manage a town in such a way that it takes a meeting and vote to get the grass cut?

Sometimes local governments - and school boards seem particularly good examples of this - are loaded with people who don't actually know how to lead and manage such an organization. Not that every single Board member should be a business executive, but it would seem that an effective board would have folks representing a variety of perspectives and talents. At least one should know how to develop strategy and organize for execution of that strategy. Then maybe this kind of execution problem can be avoided.

Another part of the problem is that it's tough to get appropriately skilled people to run for office, or even participate in government. Instead of considering it a civic responsibility, most don't consider it at all. It's something others will take care of.

Ignorance, apathy and selfishness - the enemies of democracy.