Hiding Democracy



Gutless wonders.

Pardon the temper. But for someone who believes in openness, there just aren’t strong enough words. Not for the Fort Morgan City Council that wants to hide from its voters. Nor for the Colorado Court of Appeals that wants to let them.

The council, you see, wants to be able to appoint committees by secret ballot – no record of which member voted for whom except for the final vote to confirm the winner. The court of appeals, in turn, has said there’s nothing in the Colorado “sunshine laws” to stop them.

“(The law) only requires that the public have access to meetings … and be able to observe the decision-making process,” the court ruled.

OK. Stop right there. First problem.

How do you observe a decision-making process when the most crucial part of the process is kept under wraps?

That’s not open. No more than if our own council debated by notes under the table, speaking only to cast a final vote – and not always then.

A sunshine law that allows that doesn’t deserve the name.

I’ve heard the arguments on appointing city committees before. They usually boil down to one simple stance: Feelings will be hurt. If John Smith applies for the Smallville  Quilt-Buying Commission and finds out that even Smith’s own councilman voted for someone else, he might be offended. Maybe enough to never apply for anything again.

You know something? Tough.

Democracy is not for sissies.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: this country was founded by people who didn’t fear to sign their names to a document that could hang them. Today, we don’t ask that local boards dare the hangman’s noose … just that they be accountable for their actions and that those actions stay in the public view.

After all, that public is who’s really in charge. The boards and councils work for us, not the other way around.

And any court or sunshine law that fails to acknowledge that has all the utility of  a chocolate teapot.

This case may go on to the Colorado Supreme Court. I hope it gets the hearing it deserves. And that Colorado’s voters get the answer they deserve.

Democracy doesn’t just mean being open for business.

In a democracy, being open is your business.

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