This month in the United States, 3,007 county commissions will hold meetings. Thousands more cities will hold their own council meetings. Tens of thousands more meetings of county and city boards will take place. Most of these public bodies meet weekly, biweekly, or monthly. By law, they are open to the public. By law, their agendas must be published beforehand so officials cannot simply kill initiatives or pass tax hikes without public participation. Many of these public bodies post their agendas, minutes, meeting times and locations, and stream their meetings online.
What all this means is that American governments are straightjacketed into transparency. The DNA of our governments compels them to be of, by, and for the people. Thanks to technology, even if youíre not able to physically attend the meetings, you can stay informed and be involved. They all have phone numbers, mailing addresses, email addresses, and contact forms by which the citizenry can attempt to sway their decisions.
Of all those tens of thousands of meetings that will take place this month, do you know how many private citizens will show up? Do you know how many will vote in local elections? Do you know how many will read their local papers to stay abreast of the issues affecting them?
You couldnít field a basketball team with the number of people that attend most meetings. Unless itís their job to be there, or they represent a contractor doing business with the government, people almost never show up to local government meetings until they get extremely agitated about something.
Enter HiTest. Hello, agitation.
Governments such as Pend Oreille County and media outlets such as the Priest River Times have been communicating with the people for many, many months now. The reason why some people hadnít heard about HiTest until recently is because they didnít take the time to attend the meetings, read the agendas, read the newspaper articles, or even talk to their elected officials when they ran into them at Safeway.
Weíve all got busy lives and most of the time the goings-on of local government are really, really boring. True story. But then something like HiTest comes up, and we say, why didnít somebody tell me? Why didnít I hear about this until now?
As if itís somebody elseís job to be a citizen for you.
Unless there have been violations of open meeting laws, and unless there is proof of actual corruption, there is no question about where all the outrage about transparency needs to be directed.
Judd Wilson is a reporter with the Priest River Times/Bonner County Daily Bee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.