With a new year on the horizon, and governmental entities setting budgets and goals for 2014, it is a good time for an annual reminder: Don’t create unnecessary troubles for yourselves. There are real problems you can’t avoid; anything extra is dead weight you don’t need to tote.
It is an American tradition to be suspicious of government, and it has gained a lot of traction of late, with some sectors of the citizenry in a positive lather.
While some of those now upset with government bob about like vessels wrecked on the rocks of personal failure, projecting their inadequacies on a larger screen, there are many others who are soberly conscious of true difficulties when it comes to the need for government to function well.
We continue to believe that, while there are significant problems with government at all levels — in particular concerning the way our tax dollars are spent and with a continuing intrusion on privacy — those problems can be solved in a civil, intelligent manner.
We believe in the need for effective government, recognizing the incredible number of services and supports only government can provide, allowing us to live comparatively well and to have a chance to improve our situation. We define “government” as any institution or entity that collects and spends tax dollars. Here in Pagosa Country, government includes town, county and all special districts.
There are two sure ways these entities and their elected officials create needless problems: with a cynical and/or cowardly encouragement of ideas and interests that will ultimately be abandoned, and by concealing information and decision-making processes.
In the first case: take a stand up front regarding ideas and issues you know you will not ultimately approve. Have the nerve to speak clearly and definitively when you know you speak for the majority.
In the second case: a prime obligation of local government is to be open to citizen inquiry — to cleave not only to the letter of the open records law, but to its spirit as well. The more that is kept from the citizen, the more legitimate questions a citizen has concerning motives and goals.
Certainly, there is no need for government at the local level to be anything but aglow in the clear light of day. Colorado’s Sunshine Law is precise when it comes to those records and documents government can withhold from public scrutiny and those it cannot. When government fails to promptly respond to requests for information allowed by the law, it creates doubts and concerns — often groundless, all problematic.
Further, the use of executive session should be held to the absolute minimum. And, when executive session privilege is exercised, the luxury should not be abused. No decision can be reached in an executive session. Decisions by elected officials must be made in open session, where anyone present can witness the discussion and vote. The fewer times an elected board goes behind closed doors, the better — for the board and the public. If you spend public dollars and set public policy, do it in public.
Lastly, do not surrender the duties of elected officials to citizen groups, task forces, “stakeholder” committees and the like. Ours is a representative government: officials are elected to gather information and ideas from constituents and, as their representatives, to then make the best decisions possible under the circumstances. That controversy, anger, and disappointment often follow is a natural consequence of this form of government, but the form has served us well in the past and can continue to do so if government solves real problems and avoids creating others.