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Editorial: Government transparency essential

Spring arrives Saturday and with it will come warmer days and lots of sunshine. It’s something that we’re celebrating.

But there’s a twist to that celebration. This week newspapers across the country are observing Sunshine Week, an initiative launched in 2005 by the American Society of News Editors to promote open government.

It’s a movement that you should be celebrating too. It provides greater access to public information and helps keep government officials accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, there are currently a few shadows being cast on that sunshine.

We are especially concerned about a proposed bill now being considered by the state legislature that would limit types of documents that are deemed private.

Assembly Bill 39, which has not had a hearing yet, comes from the Department of Public Safety and would significantly expand the scope of documents considered private under the state’s public records law.

Specifically, it would make confidential any records from a government body that was considered part of the “internal pre-decisional deliberations,” including research, memos or other documents and any notes or working papers prepared by government workers for their personal use, including text and email messages.

This would be very problematic, especially in light of the emails we have received through public records requests. Included in these emails was an exchange between the mayor and a resident that could be construed as a threat in which the resident describes how he could get a gun into council chambers and who would be shot first.

Emails to and from the mayor also reveal discussions about city events with concerned residents that may have helped shape city policies and actions, as well as with a former/current applicant for the city attorney position.

Additionally, we have some concerns about transparency involving city officials.

While the city claims to support transparency of its actions — and indeed does in many instances — some recent events bring that commitment into question.

For example, the public records we receive from the city are featuring more redacted material lately.

This comes on top of an incident involving the acting city attorney.

During a break at a recent City Council meeting, our reporter went to visit a staff member in the city attorney’s office. She was following up on a public records request she had made earlier in the day. The acting city attorney followed her into the office, interrupting the conversation, without knowing if it was personal or professional, and proceeded to talk over the two and even answer questions posed to the staff member as she was trying to answer them herself.

Afterward, she told our reporter that all future questions should be sent to her, and she denied this particular record request calling it attorney/client privilege.

The incident was so jarring that other people in the council chambers noticed the acting city attorney’s actions, and prompted at least one person to follow up the next day to ask our reporter what happened.

We will give her the benefit of the doubt that she is new to her job and new to the position of city attorney. We would like to believe that she is not impeding transparency.

So, in the spirit of transparency, this week’s issue features profiles of nine of the 13 candidates running for a seat on City Council and answers to questions posed by local residents.

I was disappointed that not all the candidates chose to participate or respond, especially one who already sits on a city committee.

In addition to what is featured on pages 11-16, please visit our website, www.bouldercityreview.com, to watch video interviews with the candidates. In those videos, the candidates answer a few more questions as well as explain why they feel they would be a good addition to City Council.

Selecting a candidate to support will not be an easy task. Each one would bring a unique skill set to the dais. Perhaps putting a little sunshine on the matter will help you make your decision before you head to the polls.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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