Someone Noticed Awards Thumbs-Up to Newspaper for Being an Advocate for Open Government

Commentary

This is Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote open government and freedom of information.  Spearheaded by the American Society of News Editors it is designed to strengthen the rights of the public to know what government is doing, something that badly needs enhancement in Cecil County.

The organizers host a number of activities to promote awareness, including one recognition program called local heroes, individuals who played a significant role in fighting for open government.  While we didn’t nominate anyone for the award, we might just do that when the campaign rolls around in 2012.  While we watch to see how many additional champions of sunshine in government emerge, Commissioner Broomell is off to a good start.  We recognized her effort in an earlier commentary piece

Meanwhile we’ll keep an eye on the local government boards and the community to see if other candidates emerge, but as we watch we’ll recognize an area newspaper for its effort in fighting for open government.  That publication is the Kent County News, a strong advocate for sunshine in government through its news and editorial pages and its referrals to the Maryland Open Meeting Board.

Read the editorial columns and political coverage of the Kent County News. That small weekly, anytime the commissioners go behind closed doors to discuss public business, makes it a news story so at least readers know that officials are shutting the public out and subscribers have some idea of what the politicians are doing

Closed Door Meetings Don’t Go Unnoticed for This Newspaper

Regularly, you’ll see editorials taking the politicians to task for shutting the public out of the meetings or making some other decisions related to restricting freedom of information. During the course of a year the political reporter, Craig O’Donnell and his editor file Freedom of Information Act Requests and take complaints to the state. By-the-way, they’re often successful with those.  That sort of thing creates an important balance, and contributes to good government. You can bet politicians in Kent County think twice before they try to shut out the public down there for they know their decision will be challenged.

When did that last happen with legacy or new media in Cecil County, decades ago perhaps? We checked the online database for years and couldn’t find a case where a local newspaper was concerned with such a matter.  By-the-way, being a watchdog for the public adds value for shareholders if you’re running a legacy media company.

In the tradition of the daily newspapers thumbs-up and thumbs-down editorials, we’re awarding a thumbs-up to the Kent County News for being a strong advocate for sunshine on government and for serving their readers by watching the politicians for the public.

A Florida political cartoon. Credit Ed Hall, Ponte Vedra Recorder, Artizans Syndicate, via National Sunshine Week

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18 responses to “Someone Noticed Awards Thumbs-Up to Newspaper for Being an Advocate for Open Government

  1. Regarding the Sunshine Week acknowledgement of Commissioner Bromell, it may have been premature. As of late, the transparency is becoming opaqueness and old habits and tendencies are becoming more evident in the voting patterns of Commissioner Broomell. She appears to reverting to earlier alliances as the impetus of her votes. Caveat emptor!

  2. Tom thanks for posting your comment. Could you explain a little more about how you see that? If it’s in reference to the extended trouble the commissioners had approving nearly 10-sets of minutes and decided they needed to rush behind closed doors to sort it out, it was Comm. Broomell that aired the subject out in the open. Eventually the county attorney pushed to go behind closed doors to have the discussion. She was perfectly fine with conducting the public’s business out in the open. Then when it came up a second time, she brought up the problems with the documents again in the open. Commissioner Broomell could’ve said nothing, or brought it up behind closed doors. But she pushed for transparency on this serious matter, where officials couldn’t agree on the formal actions they’d taken on important contract business.

    We need far more officials willing to stand up for open government.

    All of us want to push officials to conduct as much business as possible out in the open.

  3. They say that perception is reality. The perception is that Commissioner Broomell was strident in her calls for transparency and full disclosure when she was on the outside looking in and now that she is an elected official she copies the behavior she condemned. Instead of trying to alter her record, she should work harder and be prepared so that she does the right thing, not merely try to create the impression that she has done so. She should recuse herself from all matters concerning Penn National Gaming / Hollywood Casino due to her leadership role in Stop Slots Maryland and her strident language in opposition to “slots”. She has failed to disclose the ownersip of her residence in Perryville, whch would be negatively impacted by the widening of Rte 222. She opposes that project and should recuse herself. Hold off on a nomonation for the “Champion of Sunshine” award until she resolves these issues.

  4. Alexis

    We’ve got to believe she’s still pleased with her actions on creating more transparency in local government. Anyone trying to follow the board right now and figure out what was said, done and decided has to be pleased as Sunshine Week comes to an end in Cecil County. It’s far more than a perception that she took the lead and pushed for it (now granted the board as a majority could’ve blocked it).

    As far as we’re able to see watching the confusing mess, is it is an attempt to make the record indicate what actually happened. So since the public will never know (you may have insider surfaces informing you about things from that angle), as the officials collectively have shown had hard it is for those present during the closed door discussion to sort it out for the public, let’s start taping those meetings too (doesn’t cost much) and let’s also start pushing more of those out into the open.

    We believe the couty violated a couple of Maryland’s Open Meeting regulations during this process. We’ll see on that so let’s just let that sort itself out. It’ll take time, but we’ve noticed how down in Kent County the beat journalist down that way make the officals think before they shut the door on the public. It wouldn’t hurt here if the officials knew they had to make careful decisions before rushing behind closed doors to discuss the public’s business.

    When we asked the administration for documents related to this tangle, we were told the board would have to vote to release the records to the public. We’ll argue that by the amount of discusison they had out in front of the public, enough was disclosed to show that no harm was beinig done to the public and they are now public records. The Maryland board has come to similiar decisions, so we’ll see.

    Alexis, thank goodness we’ve got forward movement on transparency now. If only it had been a few weeks earlier, we might have a little more factual information to base our opinions on.

    Alexis, why don’t you join the few voices that exist in the county urging more and more open transactions of business. Speaking for ourselves, we’d be glad to have some addiitonal voices pushing for transparency rather than helping the politicians, the county attorney and professional staff find ways to shut the public out. The politicians have enough support to help them. We need more advocates for the public.

    Alexis can you join us on that public advocacy?

  5. I believe in transparency. I also believe that officials elected to represent us need closed meetings to discuss legal, personnel, and other matters carved out as exceptions under “sunshine laws” because they are the same rights given to us as individuals. When Dunn requests that statements made in an open meeting be excised, we have joined the 3rd World.

  6. Alexis

    Considering the confusing time the politicians are having agreeing on discussions and decisions about important contract decisions for the official record and the blogswarm the subject of sunshine on our Cecil County Government is causing, we’re rethinking our position. We originally thought that the audio of all the meetings was sufficient, but the past few weeks has given us plenty to suggest we need to rethink that position over all this commotion by the board. Perhaps we do need video and that transcriptionist Raoul recommended, along with the audio and whatever documentary evidence we can gather up, so we can all help in the collective memory process. Of course we need it too when they’re meeting behind those closed doors as they sure don’t agree on what they did, what they said, what they decided, or what should be in the official record. Oh my, pitty the average citizen that’s just interested in good government and accurate records, not those following every step for whatever reason. It appears to us as this blogswarm grows we’re going to need all visual, audio and written aids we can find to help the politicans sort it out.

    We’re off to a good start (just wish it was a few weeks earlier) with the audio. Imagine if we didn’t have that to help us figure it out as the commissioners strugle to do the same thing. Notice now some are arguing whether the c ommissioners were whipering and huddling at that last session. We had one reader write in and complain that they couldn’t hear them part of the way through that. That was because some of them had to crowd back together to shuffle through the papers (huddle) and as the paper shuffle continued and the softer voices continued, it did all combine to make it hard to hear at that point in the meeting. That’s why we’re thinking our position 0n transcriptionis and videos, though we disagreed with that added cost at first. Who would’ve thought, this would be required.

    The record should be accurate. Whatever the record was is what should be in the record. That’s our posiiton and we thank Commissioner Broomell for working to try to make sure the record accurately reflects the meetings.

    Hopefully some of the other commissioners will join her in pushing to put more of this business out in front of the public as it is obvious we needs lot of eyes and digital gadget observing these so we can all help sort out what was said, done, occurred, etc.

    Who wouldn’t thought.

    We’ll get back to this Freedom of Informatino Act concerns soon as we believe there are real and substantial issues there as these officials get the action down on paper.

    We believe the commissioners violated the open meetings act when they went behind closed doors on the FOP contract. This one raises questions. That’s not to say that they aren’t some reasons to go behind closed doors, but our plea to each of our elected officials here in the ocunty is push as much of the people’s business out in the light of day as possible and only go behind closed doors when absolutely permitted by the law and necessary (err on the side of the public if that’s necessary.)

    http://someonenoticed.wordpress.com/2010/02/18/commissioners-made-decision-to-hire-the-lobbying-firm-g-s-proctor-in-closed-session/

    • Geez Mike, I am beginning to worry that your worship of Broomell is beginning to go from idol worship to…ah, how do I put this…infatuation.

      • Raoul wouldn’t it be just the greatest if we could find one other commissioner to add to our reports, saying that they too were pushing to create more transprency in county government. That would be exciting, but so far that’s not happened. Perhaps next time they’re trying to rush behind closed doors to conduct the peoples business one or two additional political leaders will also oppose the action. That’ll give us something else to announce. BTW, we did thank President Mullin for being the first to announce that he was leaning toward flipping the switch on the audio recording and following through on that.

        Why not conduct as much of this out in the l ight of day as possible so we can all see it. That way they won’t have to have these extended arguments about things that we can only begin to puzzle together. The people could help them sort out what they did, if we could see more of it. It would also help all of us form ideas about how we’re going to vote next time. But behind those closed doors, it only leaves to speculation.

        • Mike Dixon,
          Can you name another jurisdiction with such a minutes problem? Is removing a statement heard by a room full of people “transparent government”? Couldn’t find this in Roberts Rules of Order. Was it LEGAL? I say clear up the audio problems while having a certified court reporter transcribe the backlog. If the audio problem is solved there will be no need for transcriptions in the future. Chairman Mullin should be able to control the meeting and sidebar conversations now that his texting fetish seems to be under control and he can focus on the meeting. Wonder who he communicated with during meetings?

  7. I am surprised that Mike has spent so much time here applauding Mrs. Broomell, and publishing mean spirited personal attacks by what is transparently a certain delegate or his spokes-commenter, while ignoring the surprising news that another commissioner took a scissors to the public trust and public information.

    Let’s put it another way. If Commissioner Hodge had said “Del. Smigiel is corrupt” at a public work session, and everyone heard it, but he came back later and tried to censor that from the minutes, wouldn’t Mike be the first to yell “censorship” and “lack of transparency” and violation of the public trust? So why, Mike do you have such a hard time admitting that what Dunn did, with the voting support of Mullin and Broomell, was wrong?

    You don’t have a lot of credibility as an advocate for public information and “transparency” if you are so reluctant to conced the obvious point on Dunn’s conduct.

  8. Charlie:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on this current blogswarm about the closed door decision with the casino and the challenges that followed in getting the minutes approved.

    Our position is that the record should not become creative documentation after the fact, whatever the subject. In our first report on the commissioners tangle on multiple points about what happened, we noted all the attempts to amend the record, including Commissioner Dunn’s request. At the meeting it was actually a rather quiet request, but the others, oh those other ones, you wouldn’t call those quiet, not until they started whispering and huddling together to shuffle papers. And other outlets are giving the exchange that took less than 60-seconds plenty of attention.

    In a follow-up piece we restated our position that records shouldn’t be changed to remove things that happened or things that you wanted to happen. That’s just the way it should be as we’ve stated and it applies to whatever other circumstances one finds in this complex tangle. Some officials have tried sorting out how they voted on this matter too and they’ve been involved in all of it including the closed door minutes. They’ve remarked that they thought they were voting against the amendments but some how voted for it. There were other confusing voting patterns during those meetings that say what is going on here. If they’re confused what are the rest of us going to do.

    But our position since we started this blog is to focus on areas that aren’t getting coverage from legacy media outlets or new media outlets for whatever reason, insufficient resources, unique Cecil County situational filters, or simply inattention. While we made sure we reported the brief statement that occupied seconds in the meeting, few are talking about the rush to go behind closed doors to talk to the casino about closing, opening, or expanding. That was the commissioners stated reason. Based on what’s entered the public discusison, it doesn’t seem right. What they were were discussing was an informally constructed (email) agreement by the board to return some part of the casino’s impact develpoment funds to the casino. Why not just give it to them out right in the light of day as an economic development stimulus package so we could all see it? If the push hadn’t started for open government, we’d all be hard pressed to know much about that earlier agreement from 2010, as it is just now getting more light shined on it. This has been floating around local government since last year and we’re just now finding out about it. Seems like a significant public policy issue to us. Then when the commissioners, after meeting behind closed doors to negotiate with the casino about opening, closed, or expanding, had to spend sessions arguing about what they did or didn’t do in that meeting, it seems to have even greater public policy importance. We’ll have no way of knowing exactly, as it was a closed door meeting, the tape wasn’t running, officials can’t agree and officials are confused on how they votedon the corrections. These arguments have taken up lots of time in those meetings.

    Anyway our position on records and documents is they should reflect what has occurred. We’ve said that several times.

  9. Thanks for your response. But I am still confused about your long statements on everything other than the question that was posed. You seem to justify Commissioner Dunn’s violation of public meeting transparency, because it didn’t take a lot of time for him to demand censorship of his own statements in the official record of the commissioners’ meeting. You also seem to be saying that it is OK to ignore Dunn’s outrageous censorship of his own comments in the public record of the Commissioners meeting.

    Just because it did not take a lot of time at the meeting for Dunn to propose deleting his comments from the minutes– even tho everyone heard them– it is not right to allow him to censor the public record.
    Your long winded comments still leave a lot to be questioned. Can you stand up and say, without equivocation, “Commissioner Dunn, your violated transparency and the public trust by censoring your own comments from the minutes of the public work session.”?
    Is it really that hard for you, Mike, to stand up for the public record and “transparency” when the question involves Dunn or Mullin?

  10. Charlie:

    As we’ve said from the beginning and repeat once again. Anyone, anyone trying to amend the record to add what didn’t occur or remove what occurred is wrong. We haven’t changed our position on that since the early news on this started moving on the blogs. We don’t know if legacy media ever got to the parts about all these record-keeping troubles. We’ll have to check on that.

    That applies to every elected official, whether it’s Commissioner Dunn, Hodge, Broomell, Moore or President Mullin. The record should reflect what occurred. These are important documents, especially when they’re meeting in a closed door session to help the casino open or expand, or stop it from closing. That’s why they said they were meeting with them! But we’ll have lots more on that as we examined how those actions sync with Maryland Open Meeting Laws.

    All this is where that transcriptionist would’ve come in handy or the audio records, or some electronic aid so all of us could sort it as they sure are having trouble on all these issues. We’ll focus on the one that’s getting less coverage in order that the info is out there and because, from our prespective, it’s a bigger behind-closed doors contract issue. Other outlets see at as a bigger issue from their perspective and they are all over it as you’re aware and so its out there too.

  11. Transparent Tim

    OK, it took a while but now it is clear. Anyone who tampers with the public record is wrong. Thank you for now making it clearer.

  12. Just visited the transparent Cecil county website (2-23-2011, 9:05am). STILL no minutes or audio of TUESDAY’S commissioner workshop.

    Does it really take this long for them to alter the record by doctoring the Transparent recording to suit their Deceitful version of the truth? There must be some Extreme moron IT people working for the county. It shouldn’t take more than a couple of hours, max, to put the Transparent minutes up on the Transparent website.

    Maybe when the prestidigitator of Transparency returns from Havre de Grace she can look into the opacity of Cecil County’s morphing leadership.

  13. Just visited Cecil County Website agian (3-25-2011, 9:30am) .

    No minutes. No even a simple post such as “we are having technical problems with the commissioners’ meeting minutes…please bear with us while we wait for our leader’s instructions”.

    Where is the transparency and the promised audio?

    Mike, it is time for you to declare this whole promise of transparency and the adulation you have bestowed on Broomell as a farce. You have been hoodwinked by the regime.

  14. Raoul I think they are up finally? Before we had the audio you’d sometime wait months before they’d approve the minutes and it took that action to make the records available to the public. That wasn’t productive at all from the public’s standpoint. By the time any of us could see the documents (whatever position we were focused on), it was often to late.

  15. Just a note to everyone, I had two critical comments that I had posted about Commissioner Mike Dunn removed yesterday. Commissioner Dunn contacted me directly, and he and I have discussed the issue at length. He never requested that his comments “culture of corruption” be removed. He requested that comments that were attributed to him, that actually Commissioner Hodge had said be corrected to show who actually said them. He also mentioned that this will no longer be an issue now that the meetings are going to be recorded.

    I have to commend Commissioner Dunn for reaching out to me. To reach out directly into the face of criticism is not an easy thing to do and things like that go a long way. He is going to work on getting the actual minutes out so that we can see them, and hopefully put this to rest.

    I would also encourage us to have both sides of the story before we leap out and make speculative criticism. I try not to break this rule, but I did on this issue.

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