Our View: County should open the doors on all marijuana panel meetings
There are plenty of legal reasons to close a government meeting to the public.
You need look no farther than an agenda for the Nevada County Board of Supervisors to find a list of closed-door sessions. A significant threat of litigation, labor negotiations and real estate discussions are legitimate, legal reasons for closing the doors.
These reasons are limited for a reason — elected bodies like the Board of Supervisors exist because we put them there, we fund their operations, we pay the salaries of county employees. The law requires open meetings in a vast majority of cases because we should know what our government is doing, except for those finite reasons enumerated in law that allow it to shut the doors.
And even those exemptions require that any vote be done openly and in the public eye.
That’s why the decision to shutter two of eight meetings of the county’s community advisory group — a panel that will make recommendations for the county’s permanent marijuana grow ordinance — is the equivalent of fingernails on chalkboard. It makes us squint our eyes and look for the culprit, hoping it’ll just stop.
Unfortunately, government typically doesn’t stop doing something because of our wishful thinking. People must act if they want change. They have to state a case for why shutting people out of this process isn’t just shortsighted, it’s wrong.
Let’s be clear: there’s no illegality in closing two meetings of this panel. Six of eight meetings will be open, and stakeholder input will occur at those first six meetings. The last two are for the panel to hash over what it’s heard and hammer out its recommendations.
This body will make no decisions, only recommendations. It’ll have no quorum of elected officials. If the county wants to close some meetings, it can.
The question here is why should they? What do they gain except privacy and a quiet venue where they can compile information gained from the previous six meetings?
This process, and the county, has more to lose from closing these meetings. For one, there’s the public’s trust in the integrity of the process. A presentation of what the panel did behind closed doors isn’t the same as watching the sausage being made.
It’s past time to completely open up all aspects of this process and let everyone see exactly what goes on.
The legalization and mainstreaming of marijuana in this county and state is arguably the most important issue we face right now. The steps we’ve taken and will take are going to shape the culture and economy of this county for years. It’s essential that the public have access to all parts of this process, not just the portions county officials want us to see.
How we regulate marijuana has been a Nevada County ballot question twice in the past three years. In both examples — Measure S and W — the supporters of the ballot questions failed at the polls.
With an issue this contentious, isn’t the best option to keep the doors open on the current process?
This isn’t the first time Nevada County has wanted to close a meeting. The ad hoc committee created after Measure W’s failure initially was going to forbid the media. There also was county resistance to a media presence at a newly formed committee on homelessness.
In both cases county officials opted to open the doors. Media was present, reported on the proceedings and our community was better for it.
There were no discussions of possible litigation at those meetings. There was no labor dispute that required a shuttered room. Instead it was only information that Nevada County residents wanted to know.
That desire to be informed — that need for open doors in our government — hasn’t changed. And it won’t.
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