Exempting Council from sunshine law would blind public
THE City Council -- thinking that what's good for the goose is good for the gander -- wants an exemption from the state's open government law, just like the state Legislature's.
The Council's logic is twisted. What would be good for the public, never mind a gaggle of political geese, is for the Legislature to obey the law, too.
Council members grumble that the state's so-called "sunshine law" gets in their way when they are supposedly doing the peoples' business. To that end, they are pushing a resolution to eliminate the law's requirements for themselves as well as other county councils and allow each council to make up its own to fit its needs.
That would eviscerate the state law that requires elected officials and government agencies to conduct business in public and would further shield elected officials from accountability.
The Council's action follows a dispute with the state Office of Information Practices, the agency that oversees open government rules. The agency said the Council's approval of a resolution to reorganize and change committee assignments violated the sunshine law because members had private discussions with one another before voting in public. In other words, the vote merely validated what had already been agreed to outside of public view.
So the Council changed the way it conducts such internal business, allowing its chairman to appoint committees and reorganize by simply issuing a memo.
Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz -- in a peevish move contemptuous of the public interest and the law -- used his first memo to establish the reorganization OIP had said was illegally constituted. He also used his memo power to create a new Council committee to handle affordable housing issues, appointing as its chairman Todd Apo, an executive with a resort and real estate corporation.
A Council committee last week approved the exemption resolution, which must be cleared by the full Council. The three other county councils also must approve the resolution before it is sent to the Legislature.
Two years ago, state lawmakers considered a similar proposal, but public opposition knocked it down. This new attempt should also be rejected.
Moreover, the Legislature's exemption should be removed. Few issues, if any, are decided in the public forum. Most votes taken in House and Senate chambers are only for show, having already been resolved behind closed doors.
Politicians say the law makes their job difficult. Governing isn't a walk in the park and shouldn't be. Nor should it be done in the shadows, but in the hard glare of the public's eyes. Those who can't stand the brightness ought to keep their names off the ballots.