Up and Down El Rio Blanco: Transparency

I’ve noticed a few more gray whiskers in my goatee recently. It doesn’t bother me to have them, there are just more of them these days. Maybe it’s because of my age (some of my same-age friends have quite a bit of gray hair) or maybe stress is squeezing the pigment right out of my follicles.It has been a little stressful at the paper lately. There are a lot of things to cover and there are more to come with Septemberfest, the sheepdog trials, hunting seasons and high school sports just around the corner. Those are fun things to write about but other subjects are more difficult.When I can just relate the facts of a story or the truth about a community issue, writing is easier for me. However, when I’m not allowed to learn the facts and I’m left with several unanswered questions, writing an article for the paper becomes much more challenging.One of my favorite things about my job here is being able to go right to the source of a story to ask questions, believing I’ll receive honest answers. Community issues should be no secret for anyone, though. Every citizen has the same right to know the facts and the right to his or her opinion.America is a republic, we elect people to represent us who (we believe) share our  beliefs and values. We trust them to be our voice and expect them to listen to our concerns, answer our questions and to be good stewards of our tax dollars. These tasks are best accomplished when public business is conducted openly. I have a right to know what the people I’ve chosen to be my voice are saying and doing, what their opinions are and what decisions they are making on my behalf.The state of Colorado has an open meeting law known as the Sunshine Law. The intent of the law is to keep public meetings open to the public and to conduct public business in an open manner. The law was initiated in 1972, then revised in 1977 to provide legislation for meetings held in executive session (not open to the public). The law lists several reasons for a board to discuss issues in executive session but decisions or actions are supposed to be made in public. A recent decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals held that the Colorado Open Meetings Law does not prohibit the use of secret ballots by public bodies when they vote on matters of public business.I can’t disagree more with the decision and do not understand why elected officials would want to hold secret meetings or vote on a secret ballot.Covering a meeting is especially hard when told by an elected official “no comment,” or “we discussed that in executive session and we can’t discuss what we discussed in executive session.” (I misspelled discussion in a headline last week, so I’m writing it a few times).I feel like they are acting like one of my all-time favorite actors, Jack Nicholson, when he tells Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth,” in the movie “A Few Good Men.”“Oh really? Why don’t you tell me the truth and let me decide how to handle it, Jack?” I want to reply. (I would only say those words to Jack Nicholson if I ever met him and he told me I couldn’t handle the truth.)Very few local elected officials and board members are paid for their services and the small stipend some receive would not cover the cost of coloring the gray hairs the stress of serving on these boards creates, in my humble opinion.The people we elect locally are our friends and neighbors. They have a difficult job and must make difficult decisions, but we want to help them make those decisions and we can best do that when elected officials conduct public business in front of the public.I would like to ask my friends and neighbors to start attending more public meetings to express their opinions and ask questions and I would like to ask our elected officials for more transparency.We can handle the truth!