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Prop the doors wide open

If there is any topic regarding government that never disappears, any subject pertinent to the workings of government that never fails to arouse interest and reaction, it is the idea of transparency.

The topic is one visited regularly in this space, with local governmental bodies too often providing cause for comment, on what seems to be a clockwork schedule.

Our point: Every action, including deliberations, of elected officials and bodies that direct tax-supported entities should be conducted in the clear light of day.

Elected officials are the embodiment of those who elect them —not special beings, members of elite groups, willing to act oblivious to the attention and concerns of their constituents.

And yet, too many times, they do. Because the law allows them the choice.

In most cases, the reasons are not nefarious. But, whether reasons are suspicious or sound, the end result is the same: members of the public are denied access to matters of importance, denied participation in the process that leads to decisions that have an effect on them.

The latest example: the town council’s executive session last week, held to discuss the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries. The closed session preceded the council’s decision to impose a moratorium on dispensaries within town limits.

There were a number of citizens at the meeting, many of whom were deeply concerned about the decision, who deserved to hear the full discussion of the issue.

The executive session was, as such sessions always are, justified by reference to statute. The session was called to deal with advice given the council by the town attorney.

The council faces a genuine problem when considering whether or not it will allow dispensaries within town limits. State law conflicts with federal law and, further, state law is ambiguous. Authorities have stated that the federal government will not prosecute dispensary owners if business is conducted within the rules, yet who is to say what future administrations will do? The town Land Use Code, as well as the oath taken by council members, prohibits the town from enacting ordinances, granting licenses, etc. that go against federal law.

The decision to impose the moratorium was based, at least in part, on the fact there is subcommittee action taking place at the state level, with results expected in the early spring. Also expected, or hoped for, is legislative action to clarify Colorado law — a law established by referendum, approving use of medical marijuana. The town can rewrite the code, but more information is necessary.

No doubt, some of the motive for opting for a moratorium was brought to the floor during the executive session. Only Mayor Aragon questioned whether or not the session should be called and town attorney Bob Cole, participating by telephone, recommended the council enter executive session.

No surprise, from counsel.

Why? There is no local litigation taking place on the issue. If discussion concerned the potential for litigation and the forms it might take, are we to assume other parties are not already aware of these things? The session did not involve negotiations or personnel matters. So, why not receive and discuss the attorney’s information in public?

True, statute allows the session. But, we repeat a claim made in this space many times: Because you can do it, does not mean you should do it.

And we repeat, too, our belief that nearly every government process should take place in full view, in a forum in which interested citizens have the chance to reconnoiter the entire field, to absorb of as much of the information used by their elected representatives as possible.

Government in a democracy does not lurk behind closed doors. With very few exceptions — very few —doors should be propped wide open, with all welcomed to enter. Karl Isberg