Business of the county requires transparency
If it were true that operating Mesa County government was just like running a business, then there would be little need to deal with pesky laws that require the county to keep the public informed of what it is doing.
But that is most definitely not the case. The business of Mesa County is the public’s business. And, while most county residents no doubt want local government operated in a professional manner, they also want the ability to find out what that government is doing. Hence the laws, which Commissioner Janet Rowland and Craig Meis find so annoying, that require the county to publish its monthly expenditures in newspapers “of a general circulation.”
When they discussed this issue at a meeting last week, Meis suggested that the information could simply be posted on the Internet to meet the requirements for public notice. But that’s patently nonsense, at least in today’s world.
Consider, for instance, that using the county’s own numbers, roughly 1,400 people visit the Mesa County website each day. How many of those are county employees or the same people getting on the site multiple times is impossible to tell.
In contrast, the print edition of The Daily Sentinel is viewed by more than 60,000 different individuals each day. This comparison says nothing of the potential for hiding information on a complicated website. Disclosures in the newspaper, by contrast, are right in front of the readers.
There’s no question that publishing the information in a general circulation newspaper does a much better job of fulfilling the county’s mandate to keep the public informed. Given how eager the commissioners are to avoid doing that, it’s no wonder several county residents have questioned whether the county is trying to keep the information from as much of the public as possible.
We were particluarly appalled at Janet Rowland’s suggestion last week that the county might simply ignore the state law that requires publishing expenditures, under the guise of “doing the right thing.” We hope every local resident was equally angered.
If the county commissioners can pick and choose which laws they will abide by, why couldn’t every citizen of the county do the same thing? A developer might decide that “doing the right thing” meant providing the most inexpensive housing possible, even if it didn’t meet county building safety codes or zoning requirements.
We were glad that Commissioner Steve Acquafresca and County Attorney Lyle Dechant both counseled against ignoring the law.
The commissioners may want to run county government more like a business while curbing expenses. But there is nothing buisnesslike about breaking the law or making it difficult for the public to see exactly what the county is doing.
As Commissioner Meis stated, there may come a time when the local newspaper is no longer he most effective medium for disclosing the county’s business to the public it serves, but that time is far from today’s reality.