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Our View: Why shut the door on governor’s visit?

The Union Editorial Board

To paraphrase from a famous movie, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s understanding of the word “transparency” doesn’t mean what he thinks it means.

Transparency doesn’t include restricting access to a League of Cities meeting held today in Grass Valley. It’s not found in a tailored statement afterward about what happened behind closed doors. And it sure isn’t composed of elected and appointed officials from across the state gathering in our county on our dime.

Transparency suits Newsom on a part-time basis. For example, when the governor spoke recently about the bullet train, he said “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency,” CNBC reported.

Talking about the state’s charter schools, Newsom said he wanted lawmakers to add transparency. “We want to get a (charter) transparency bill on my desk as soon as possible,” Cal Matters reported.

Merriam-Webster knows what it’ll get Newsom for Christmas this year.

The governor’s press office said Newsom requested no media for today’s League of Cities meeting. “It’s a meeting, not a press event,” a spokesman said. He offered to provide a statement of what occurred after the meeting. But no reporters. No open doors.

This is the first time a governor has visited Grass Valley in recent memory. We’d like to think this visit would shine a spotlight on our government, not cloak it in darkness. That’s another reason for Newsom to get a dictionary.

According to Jim Ewert, general counsel with the California News Publishers Association, the League of Cities has no requirement to follow the Brown Act. That’s the law requiring governments to meet openly and only close their doors in narrow circumstances.

In fact, the league offers elected officials training on the Brown Act. It just doesn’t have to follow the act itself.

Irony — be sure to highlight that definition.

The League of Cities has voluntarily complied with the Brown Act, Ewert said. News that the governor would shutter today’s meeting surprised him.

After all, why bother to comply at all if you’re going to pick and choose?

That’s a good question for the governor. Wish we could ask him in person instead of shouting it as he drives away.

Make no mistake, the fact that the League of Cities is meeting here is a good thing. Grass Valley Councilwoman Jan Arbuckle, the 2018-19 president of the league, helped draw the group here.

But showcasing our community to various elected officials doesn’t equal open government. There should be both.

There’s a chance some of you might not care about this issue. A bunch of suits meet behind closed doors and discuss esoteric bureaucratic details. Nothing new there, right?

Except in this case we don’t know what they’re discussing. Elected and appointed officials gathering in darkness, using your money to get there, and talking about hidden subjects.

Do you trust them to offer a true account of what happened after the fact? We’ve got a bridge in San Francisco to sell you if that’s the case.

Grass Valley paid almost $6,000 last year to be part of the League of Cities, and had a $5,000 budget for conferences and travel. Nevada City likely would have paid about $2,500 last year to be in the league.

This is money that we pay, you and me, so that our leaders can cloister themselves in a building to discuss unknown topics.

The league’s own manual from 2014 speaks directly to this issue. Its core beliefs include “conducting the business of government with openness, respect and civility.” They also believe “open decision-making that is of the highest ethical standards honors the public trust.”

Open decision making and high ethical standards are laudable, desirable goals. They’re also phrases apparently misunderstood by Newsom and the League of Cities.

They’ll need more than a dictionary to cure that.

Our View is 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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