Our View: Closed doors come natural to Nevada County government | TheUnion.com

Our View: Closed doors come natural to Nevada County government

The Union Editorial Board

Local government just can’t help itself when it comes to closing the doors.

Sure, the Brown Act requires that most meetings of governmental entities be open to the public, but there are always exceptions. Litigation, a public employee performance evaluation, labor negotiations — these all fall under the exemption.

And, of course, if there isn’t an exemption to be found, the government can always create a panel that doesn’t fall under the Brown Act.

That seemingly is what it’s done with the Roadmap to Recovery Advisory Committee. The committee has the task of helping Dr. Ken Cutler, the county’s public health officer, with developing safety measures for businesses to complete before reopening.

And you, citizen, are not invited.

The public could slow down the committee, so it won’t be allowed to view the meetings, Assistant CEO Mali Dyck explained.

Talk about saying the quiet part out loud. The public might want to have a voice in the process of reopening our economy? Better shut that down fast.

These meetings are held online, because of social distancing. And, of course, the host of these meetings could use software enabling them to mute participants, so you don’t have random outbursts. But that would take work, and maybe some money. Instead, they’ve chosen to have government and business leaders hide their discussion in the shadows.

That builds no trust, and only digs a deeper hole that our government should instead be climbing out of.

This is a recurring issue with local government.

In June 2016 Supervisor Dan Miller made headlines when he said meetings between government officials and representatives of the cannabis industry wouldn’t be open because: “We can’t be open and frank in our discussions. We can’t be honest.”

The meetings were opened to the media and proceeded without problem.

That same year the Nevada Irrigation District received a formal request to live-stream and broadcast its meetings. In April 2017 the NID board rejected the request, instead opting to improve its existing audio recording system. Two months later the board formed a committee to examine live-streaming and archiving those recordings.

Now anyone can see archived video recordings of NID meetings.

Around the same time in 2017 the county was neck deep in its community advisory group, a citizens panel given the task of creating recommendations for a permanent cannabis ordinance. Then-County Counsel Alison Barratt-Green had said there was no requirement that all of the group’s meetings be open to the public. Supervisor Hank Weston, who’s since retired from public office, said the panel needed to work privately when writing its recommendations.

However, The Union asked Barratt-Green to review the law, and she determined the group did fall under the Brown Act. All meetings were opened to the public.

Late last year the Nevada City Council intended to hold a closed training session. It was opened to the public when an agenda item was added about the possible sanction of Mayor Reinette Senum. About 30 members of the public attended.

And now we’re at the present day, with another move by the government to close the public out of its business.

County officials have said they won’t release more detailed information about positive COVID-19 cases because it might be counterproductive to stopping the virus’ spread.

Never mind that other counties release that information. Never mind that Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, has praised communities that break down information by district, county and zip code.

Never mind that a local committee is shrouded in secrecy, talking about what’s arguably one of the most important topics of the day — how we reopen our economy.

Our government officials need to stop acting as arbiters, dispensing information as they see fit and closing the gates when it suits them. They need to open the doors and provide this information, enabling us to make the best, most informed decisions possible, not manipulating us through the details they deem worthy of releasing.

Who knows why they think their current course of action is the correct one. Maybe they just can’t help themselves.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of The Union Editorial Board, a group of editors and writers from The Union, as well as informed community members. Contact the board at EditBoard@TheUnion.com.

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