As others see it: Open - and proactive
Headlines in the Sentinel over the past several months have pointed out troubles in Winnebago, especially in regard to violations of the state's open meeting law. It seems clear to us that the leadership and will are lacking in Winnebago to follow state law and to make sure citizens are well-informed about decision-making.
The opposite approach was evident recently in Blue Earth, where City Administrator Kathy Bailey took a proactive step to make sure the City Council there does not make mistakes. Bailey informed elected officials about several aspects of the open meeting law that she believed they may have been close to violating. We commend her for her honest approach, and for delving into the slightly obscure problem of "chain" meetings.
In essence, a chain meeting occurs when elected officials, who are supposed to meet in public, instead e-mail and phone each other to discuss, debate or decide issues ahead of time. For the public, this wipes out a view into the process of how decisions are made. This, in turn, destroys accountability, which can only be provided by informed voters.
Bailey warned council members that their e-mails and phone records can be sought by freedom of information requests and can become public. She also noted that city insurance does not cover fines levied against officials for violating the open meeting law. Nor can it help them if they are repeat offenders who thus face possible removal from office.
Again, we believe Bailey was acting as a conscientious public leader, and we believe others can learn a lot from her approach.