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County consultants should hold open meetings

July 24, 2017

Dan Kramer, transparency watchdog and general thorn in the side of Sussex County Council, a year ago complained that consultants held private meetings with select individuals in preparation for developing the county's new comprehensive development plan.

The Attorney General's Office recently replied that meetings organized by the consultants do not have to follow the same rules as county government. These meetings do not require public notice, and consultants are not required to allow the public to attend.

This finding represents exactly the kind of government nitpicking people are fed up with. Worse, it flies in the face of good government.

Consultants are selected by council and are well paid with public tax dollars. Their work will certainly be used when county government makes decisions – otherwise what are we paying them for? Their role is clearly advisory; the information gathered will be used in writing the comprehensive plan.

Beyond that, who could have participated in these meetings – and what could they have said – that the public should not be allowed to hear? Why should the consultants hear secret information and possibly use it to recommend policy but not let anyone know where it came from?

County council this year appointed a task force on new sign regulations. The list of task force members was publicly available, the meetings were announced, and the public was permitted to attend.

The comprehensive plan is at least as critical and complex as sign regulations, and the public deserves at least as much oversight. The consultants may have been given a green light by the Attorney General's Office, but holding secret, unannounced meetings with unspecified participants in the process of developing the new plan is not the path to good government.

We call on county government to open all meetings coordinated by consultants to the public. It is the public, not secret stakeholders, who pay the consultants, and the public should have a seat at the table to keep an eye on everything they do.

 

  • Cape Gazette editorials are considered and written by members of the Cape Gazette editorial board which includes Dennis Forney, publisher; Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Laura Ritter, news editor; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; and Nick Roth, sports editor.

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