Linn County Board of Supervisors candidate Dave Machacek dropped by this week for an editorial board session. We’ve had a parade of local candidates in recently as we decide on endorsements.
The session was pretty standard, but one moment still bugs me. During a discussion on how Machacek might like to change the way the board runs, he said one of the best things about the new five-member board is that two members can get together in private to hash out ideas without breaking open meetings laws. Two of five does not a quorum make.
He then gave arguments I’ve heard many times from officials and candidates over the years. He wants to be able to brainstorm and kick around ideas without seeing it in the newspaper. It can be downright uncomfortable, you see, floating ideas in front of the prying eyes of press and public. Public policy crafted in private is so much easier.
Sounds innocent enough. But I’d like to make a couple points.
First, the process by which public officials arrive at public decisions is every bit as important as the final proposal or vote. That’s really the reason we have sunshine laws, so that taxpayers can understand how decisions are arrived at, who influenced them and why they’re being made. It’s for that reason that I’m not terribly sympathetic of officials searching for comfy settings to brainstorm.
Second, a one-on-one meeting between supervisors sounds OK until you realize that it only takes three such “legal” get-togethers before all five supervisors have brainstormed their way to consensus. I’ve seen plenty of public entities operate like this. A few phone calls, a friendly cup of coffee and voila, everything’s all wrapped up with a bow.
I don’t mean to jump on Machacek or suggest that his opponent, Supervisor Jim Houser, is a paragon of openness. But it troubles me when a candidate, unprompted, starts talking about the virtues of carrying on business behind the scenes before he’s even in office.
I think a five member board should improve openness and stoke more public debate, rather than create and new avenue for backroom deal making. That’s just my opinion.