Computers vs. Public

January 5th, 2009 by Ken

Does the people’s right to know, extend to personal computer use on the part of our elected officials?  That my friends, is the essence of the fuss being made about private e mails of Olympia councilmembers being sent to each other during public meetings.

Seems that some members of the Olympia City Council like to check their e mail and reply to e mail messages.  Some of them do it during council meetings.   Should they be doing that – – and further – – should they be e mailing each other about activities currently in front of the council?

Anyone who has attended any council meeting knows how boring they can be.  Those making presentations before the council often drone on and on – – and we’re not talking about the public – – we’re talking about the city staff.   It’s often boring information.  And, the councilmembers already have the information in front of them.

So, some councilmembers like to use their lap top computers to do other things – – like talk to members of the council while public testimony is going on.  Some – – in Lacey – – use their computers to play games. 

No one disputes that councilmembers use their computer during council meetings.  They all do.   The question is whether or not they should comment, in private messages, about discussions going on in public? 

I question the need for personal computers for councilmembers at all.  If the reason is to cut down on the paper work, then it doesn’t fly.  All staff reports and committee minutes are already printed for the media and for the public if they want it.  These are the same reports available on the councilmembers personal computers.   It isn’t much more paper.

And, if the councilmembers have private information on their computers that isn’t available to the media or the public – – then the city is in violation of the Open Meetings Act.

I don’t think councilmembers need private computers, but if they have them, they should refrain from answering  e mails, playing games, or talking with each other during the council meetings.

Each city should draft rules regarding personal use of public computers during council meetings. 

And, councilmembers who do use their computers, when they should be paying attention to the meeting, should follow this rule – – Don’t do it in private if you don’t want it made public.

Posted in Government, The Real News

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