Council after hours leaves us in the dark

Most York County Council meetings are so boring that judges should consider requiring attendance as part of probation sentences. That really would be punishment.

Your government doesn't have to be exciting to work. But it must be totally open, accessible to York County's people. So if your neighbors want to go to council meetings and raise a stink, or watch it on TV and then raise a stink, they can get involved in their own business.

If meetings are controversial, like discussions over where to put landfills or what kind of intersections are safest, then great. Democracy isn't easy. A good, old-fashioned controversy means people care.

Yet, the new county manager wants less controversy. He wants fewer people watching as the road intersection sausage is made.

Tell him, "No way."

Nobody should listen to any county manager, or any councilman, who wants less openness in government. Not now, not ever, not for any reason.

Jim Baker was hired without any public input at all. None. "He's great," chimed in the County Council.

That's the same council that never let you tell the job finalists what you might want in a county manager. The same council that had a majority somehow ignore engineers who liked a T-shaped Porter Road/Firetower Road intersection -- more expensive, sure, but safer -- better than the Y-shape that was adopted.

People and public policy

But this move isn't about intersections. It is about the people -- not just the politicians and the county staff -- being involved in public policy from the start.

Here's the raw deal in a nutshell. Baker wants less-formal presentations on "Pennies for Progress" road projects. He wants those presentations not to be recorded, not televised, but held after council meetings, which sometimes last for hours.

Those presentations about public roads paid for by tax dollars are, in Baker's words in a memo to council, "intended to provide an informal opportunity to advise the council about the benefits, challenges and controversies involved in each road project and for staff to hear Council members' perspectives before the options are rolled out for public comment. When these presentations are recorded and televised it undermines some of their value in this regard and preempts our capacity to let nearby residents hear about the options on a firsthand basis at a time when they can get answers to their questions."

Translation: The council, and staff like Baker, should hear about what roads should be built, and how, before you do. They know better than the people with kids on the roads, who pay that penny in taxes on every dollar spent.

The public gets its say later, at a public hearing, after politicians decide what they like.

Government can be messy

Open meetings that recently have started to be televised have shown the public even more what kind of decisions are made. It shows that government can be messy and fractious.

Televised meetings show what kind of ruckus certain councilmen make when those councilmen don't get their own way. You might even hear a few words that would make a longshoreman turn beet red.

In that 11-page memo to the council, Baker deep on page 9 wrote of this change: "I'd like to recommend we change our procedures slightly." I guess pulling the public from total open access to county business is slight to him.

That is, not slightly, wrong.