It is that time of year again. It is retreat season
Local governments are planning their out-of-town all-day or two-day retreats where they get together and discuss their respective legislative agendas for the rest of the year.
To be fair, they give public notice and the public is welcome to attend.
We should also say the ordinary practice of city and county government of holding out-of-town retreats is not illegal.
Despite those facts, it is very poor public service to discuss the people’s business in another city.
Taking the people’s business away from the people, while not a violation of the law, is a violation of the public trust.
When city councils, county commissions and boards of education go to another city or county for a retreat, they know citizens will not follow them.
Most of them likely do not even consider the implications of the practice or think about the message it sends to the people they are chosen to represent.
Citizens not only have the right to know what decisions their elected officials reach, they have every right to know how they reach those decisions.
Deliberations of the public’s business should always be before the public.
The fact they send out notices of those out-of-town gatherings does not mean they are really accessible.
Whether they admit it or not, the retreats often give them the opportunity to be more candid on things they would not want to discuss in public.
The only thing they really seem to be retreating from is the very public they are elected to represent.
Those elected to office will adamantly defend their standing practice of annual retreats.
That defense will most likely center around the argument that state law allows it.
That begs the question — should you do everything or anything you can do or want to do, just because it is not illegal?
Those holding office need to ask themselves why they ran for office, why they chose public service and why they feel the need to go to a nice out-of-town conference center to do what they could do at home, in their own city.
A true public servant seeks public office to serve the public.
The public is best served by openness, accessibility, transparency and amenability.
Local government keeps moving farther and farther away from the people.
The entire mindset of our elected officials needs to change.
The more open you are, the more accessible you are, the more public trust you will build.
The more you go off on retreats, hide behind the closed doors of an executive session or even whisper to one another during meetings, the more people will be suspicious and the less they will trust you with their business.
It should also not go without saying, these out-of-town retreats are on the public dime.
It should also be noted that an out-of-town business is benefiting from the amount of money spent on the retreat, rather than a local business.
Citizens should show up at regular city, county and board of education meetings and demand more openness.
Then, during elections vote for officials who pledge openness. But, then again, they all pledge and promise openness, don’t they?
— Director Jim Zachary