Sometimes, appearance is everything.
While intentions might be pure, any appearance otherwise can lead to mistrust.
That seems to be the case with the Dane County Board of Supervisors committee chair meetings. As the Tribune reports this week, committee chairs regularly meet to discuss their work with the board chair prior to the board’s general meeting.
While these meetings are not secret, they are not publicly noticed, either, and that’s prompted some to question whether they comply with the state’s open meetings law.
The board chair has pointed out that no decisions are made or votes taken at these meetings, and the attendees don’t constitute a quorum of the board of supervisors. The meetings are simply a means of briefing the county board chair and preparing for the larger meeting, so the board chair can prepare accordingly. All may seem perfectly innocent, and the county’s attorney maintains they are not a means to circumvent the open meeting laws.
Still, one can argue that public matters are being discussed without an invitation to the public to listen. And when elected officials meet to discuss the public’s business, their constituents should be apprised.
One easy fix would be to notice these meetings.
Asked why this extra step is not taken, Chair Sharon Corrigan said often, the meetings are “on the fly” to accommodate the times that committee chairs can make them.
But to maintain the spirit of open government, the meetings could be scheduled on a regular basis with proper notice provided. Committee chairs unable to make the meetings could email the board chair a report of the work done indicating the discussion likely to take place at the larger board of supervisors meeting.
Doing so would not be an admission of any past wrongdoing but instead would indicate every effort was being made to comply with the open meetings law and embrace open government.
It seems like a simple way to quell any concerns that the county board is acting otherwise and to appear in full support of sunshine laws.