EDITORIAL: Be thoughtful when scheduling public meetingsSometimes little things make a big difference when it comes to building public confidence and running a lean, efficient government.
Sometimes little things make a big difference when it comes to building public confidence and running a lean, efficient government.
Local public officials often bemoan the impact of levy caps, declining state revenue and rising costs as among the biggest problems and barriers they face. Yet in little ways, they nickel and dime public coffers when an ounce of planning would net some face-saving points with the public.
For instance, after giving department reports to a county committee Thursday, Douglas County staff were sent to the hall while committee members met behind closed doors to discuss unrelated issues. The closed session meeting was legal, but we argue poorly planned. During a 45-minute period, staff time was wasted while the committee discussed the status of union negotiations. Staff was needed later at the session, but they had to wait indefinitely until the closed session ended.
Collectively, the staff burned up half a workday — 5.25 hours — waiting for the committee. They were tenured staff and department managers, so the value of their time was considerable.
Douglas County isn’t alone in its poor planning. Superior’s City Council at times also lets the public sitting and wondering why meetings didn’t begin at their posted time — all because councilors ran long in closed session.
Monday night, the school board met in closed session prior to its public committee of the whole meeting. While the session normally starts at 5 p.m., the board remained in a closed expulsion hearing until after 6 p.m. During that time, one director walked out — no doubt believing time is too valuable to be squandered indefinitely. Without a doubt, the director was right. When the board finally met in open session, members rushed through business.
This is particularly unfair because parents must juggle jobs, kids, child care and dozens of other obligations to create time to attend a meeting.
Closed session meetings are allowed under Wisconsin law when they protect the public interest. Government officials should use good sense, however, to ensure they are scheduled to also protect the public’s best interest. Elected bodies shouldn’t go behind closed doors until the people’s business is done first. People need the ability to return to work or home without having their time wasted.