Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Torrance County Commission meeting extraordinarily polished.

I have to admit carrying preconceived notions into the meeting; I wasn't expecting fast moving, informative engaging business of county government. The meeting was chaired by Torrance County Commissioner Vanessa Chavez-Gutierrez, link.

The meeting lasted five hours, including an hours long "governance training session".

Photojournalist and blogger Mark Bralley, who has seen many more government meetings than most of the rest of us combined, stood up at public forum to tell the commission, it was one of the best run meetings he has seen.

Lest we get too gushy though, they still have it in their minds to discuss whether citizens who come to participate in county commission meetings with recording equipment of any kind, will be treated differently than those who don't. They're thinking of cordoning them off or maybe sticking them up on a platform.

Commissioner Lonnie Freyburger's motion to prohibit citizens from taping meetings was dropped on the advice of the Torrance County Attorney. The consensus of the lawyers advising the commission was, if counties taped their own meetings, citizens could "legally" be banned from creating their own recordings. Freyburger defended having made the motion in the first place, saying it was a "work in progress".

A couple of county workers spoke in favor of limiting the free exercise of the rights and responsibilities of citizens to hold their government accountable in the spending of public power and resources.

Michelle Jones, r, (who I incorrectly identified previously as Linda Kayser) seated as Torrance County Manager Joy Ansley passes by, was particularly perturbed, informing Commissioners that the cameras in the room this morning had made it "impossible for her to do her job" during the meeting.

Another, argued that camera tripods had made the safe evacuation of a room with four doors and perhaps five times that many people, so dangerous as to warrant banning tripods to some corner of the room. It was he that suggested that we might be compelled to stand on a platform.

The County Attorney suggested that others needed to weigh in; the Fire Marshall for example will be asked to balance First Amendment rights against real and imagined safety issues.

On the issue of "distraction"; County Clerk argued any citizen with a camera was distraction enough to warrant limiting legislation.

Consider a real distraction; some one in the audience yelling out or making a lot of noise. Clearly that behavior cannot be permitted.

Consider the relative distraction of someone standing quietly and peacefully with a camera, or a poster. A distraction? maybe, technically.

A distraction of the magnitude that the free exercise of constitutionally protected humans rights should be disallowed? hardly. Not even close.

Pols and public servants have an obligation to sit and take a certain amount of "abuse"; it's part of the job. How can they promise to defend the Constitution and citizen's right to petition the government, and then refuse to tolerate any petition not served to them politely and on a platter?

At issue; will the commission meet "legal" standards of transparency or ethical standards of transparency?

"Legal" standards come with fingers drawing quotation marks in the air. It means the lowest standards of acceptable conduct, further mitigated by all of the legal weaselry that "legal" loopholes and technicalities will allow. They require as little transparency as the law will allow. They are standards that allow pols and public servants to hide whatever it is they need to hide.

In stark contrast, ethical standards of conduct require as much transparency as the law will allow. Ethical standards don't require air quotes or any other qualifiers. Citizens are entitled to candor, forthrightness and honesty in response to their legitimate questions about the public interests; public power, resources, and public service.

The Torrance County Commission's mettle is being tested. When/if they vote for transparency in meetings and in public records, limited only by the law, they will have met the test.

When the question is;

does the Torrance County Commission intend to tell/show
the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the ethically
redacted truth to their constituents?
any answer except yes means, no.

No matter how polished their meetings.

photos Mark Bralley


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Well said and the matter is far from over. The policy is being brought to the table again with additional restrictions such as a 24 hour pre-recording notification of meetings to be made to the county managers office, specification on camera noise, light restriction, and imposition of all cameras being mandated to rest on tripods. To be run through at the March 28, 2012 meeting.

Melody Everett said...

Thanks "Great Defenders of the Constitution" for coming out to the toolies and shedding some light on this situation. It appears that you will also get to witness Mrs. Hewett being relieved of her duties on the Planning and Zoning Board, if you attend the March 28th meeting. I hope you can make it once again!!!

Anonymous said...

Just an FYI--that was Michelle Jones (I think that is her name; I know it is not Linda Kayser) that got up to complain how distracting it all was for her--that is her seated in the pic with Joy Ansley walking by. I also wonder how restricting people who want to record to a certain spot will help keep her from getting so distracted--the poor thing will still have to hear all the camera clicking noise!! I would also point out that the sign-in table was more in the way than a camera tripod would be--it was right in the path of the door.

ched macquigg said...

Thanks for the heads up on Michelle Jones. I just read that in the minutes as well.

michelle jones said...

Mr. Macquigg,
I thought you were more professional than this. I'm Michelle Jones and you missquoted me in your blog. IN QUOTES you missquoted me. I never said "impossible to do my job". I said the camera clicking was disruptive to me personally as I was attempting to do my job. I can't express my opinion without being misquoted simply because it conflicts with yours? You owe me an apology buddy. I hope to see you at the next Commission meeting. ( thanks for the picture though- I love it!)

ched macquigg said...

Ms Jones,

You certainly can to express your opinion, and without deliberate misquoting.

i was quoting you from memory. My recollection was strong.If I quoted you incorrectly, I do indeed apologize.

Mark Bralley is the photographer

Michelle jones said...

Accepted with thanks.