Trading ideas can beat trading blows in efforts to protect our First Amendment rights

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Trading ideas can beat trading blows in efforts to protect our First Amendment rights

Our most recent columns focused on vigilance and, at times, bitter battles to protect our rights to government transparency covered by the First Amendment, Open Meetings and Open Records acts.

But midweek we were pleasantly interrupted by a phone call reinforcing the value of a tool besides building walls with superb archers in the towers to protect Castellum Liber Verbum. A bridge across the moat surrounding the castle also can be priceless.

Initially the Caller ID set off alarm bells. It was the firm of the municipal attorney for a town we had warned about two transparency issues--a defective legal notice for an annexation hearing and an omission from the agenda for the council meeting where the hearing was to be held.

It was indeed that attorney and that subject, but to our surprise he was calling us to say thanks for calling the errors to the town’s attention so the hearing could be rescheduled following publication of a corrected notice with corrected language for the meeting agenda for the new date.

By catching the problem, he said we’d identified a big hole in the safety net designed to catch such problems, which meant it not only was fixed this time but shouldn’t happen again.

Obviously we thanked him for taking time to call and since we were working right then on last week’s column about HB 1003, asked him about some of the wording.

 He was willing to share some insights on background about how the legislature too often tries to solve one problem with a fix that creates three new woes—especially for smaller agencies that must comply with a law designed primarily for major agencies and huge companies.

We called it the law of unintended consequences in my column, and discussion included many of his thought, which either confirmed others’ insights or raised new points.

But we saved the most important point for this week: He said the good government attorneys aren’t opposed to government transparency. They know it actually makes their jobs much easier.

That’s because a citizenry that trusts their local and county boards and commissions is willing to engage in constructive discourse with their elected officials—even those who have a problem or disagreement with official decisions on a particular issue.  

We’re reminded of frequent discussions with both government attorneys and elected officials on how they can follow both the letter and spirit of the OMA and ORA while respecting legitimate privacy concerns.

As the events of the last few weeks involving Amazon, Google, Facebook, and other online services have so starkly illustrated, this will be the 300-lb. gorilla in the transparency discussion room for years to come.

We have a chance to be common sense voices to make certain that the ultimate winners as the rhetoric grows more shrill is the common citizen whose rights we represent.

This might be a good time to invite a local municipal or county agency lawyer for coffee and a donut. And we say to heck with the doctors on this one. Which is more important, your calorie count for one morning or the government transparency rights we enjoy and want to pass on to our children?

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