The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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May 10, 2013

LEVINE: Access to information vital in society

When a Clinton County judge ruled in 2012 that the Clinton City Council violated the open meetings law, it sent a direct message to current City Council members that operating in secret would not be tolerated.

In the past, many citizens and reporters questioned some of the actions by the council and wondered if it was conducting public business in secret. When the council entered closed session in 2011 to discuss policy-making decisions, that was the final straw.

The judge ultimately ruled the council had erred on the wrong side of caution - it had entered into closed session and made decisions that should have been conducted in public.

Since that ruling, I have no doubts as to whether the city conducts most business in eye of the public. Just go to a meeting or read about one in the Herald, and you know they are not discreet in showcasing the problems that the city faces.

I disagree with plenty of actions by the City Council. One that I don’t disagree with is its focus on keeping the public informed through committee or council meetings. It’s refreshing to see government operate in a transparent function.

Not all area governments are that refreshing.

We, the residents, are the ultimate CEOs of local city councils and school boards. Sure, the boards make decisions, but we have an ownership stake in what they decide. If we disagree, we elect new board members to make the city or schools run in the direction we choose.

Shouldn’t we have most of the information available to us to make correct assertions of how our city or schools are being run? Far too often, school boards and committees are making it difficult for taxpayers and the media (by which thousands of taxpayers hear the information) to have access to discussions and particular records.

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