Opinion

Keep road talks open

Preserving public access to business conducted by the York County Council is worth the risk that some observers may be confused by discussions on road improvement plans.

The council backed off Monday night from an earlier proposal by County Manager Jim Baker to delay any discussions about "Pennies for Progress" road plans until the end of the regular meeting and to turn off TV cameras and not record the sessions. While council members went along with the proposal to hold the discussions at the end of the meeting, they unanimously agreed that the talks should be recorded and televised.

Baker, in fact, also had changed his original position, agreeing that the discussions should be recorded and televised. He also suggested that the cameras could be moved to different positions during any talks to provide a better view of road diagrams.

Baker has asserted that his intention never was to limit public access to discussions by the council. He said the purpose of delaying road talks until the end of the regular meeting and not recording or televising them was to prevent people from misconstruing the county's intentions or assuming that the discussions represented the final word on road improvements.

That, of course, is a possibility. Some residents may watch these discussions on TV and come away with mistaken conclusions about what the council has decided.

But that does not justify limiting the public's access to the proceedings. Open government occasionally can be messy, but elected officials always must be accountable to the people they serve, and they must conduct their business in public.

Councilman Curwood Chappell put it succinctly: "I don't think the public should be deprived of anything we do here from the pledge of allegiance until we're adjourned."

That, we think, should be the principle that governs the council's actions regarding all public business it conducts.

Baker has helped bring order and decorum to council meetings since coming aboard as county manager. His proposal to delay road talks and not record them may have been motivated simply by a desire to streamline the meetings and avoid confusion.

But it was a step too far in the direction of denying public access and meeting, in effect, behind closed doors. It was a misstep we hope Baker doesn't repeat.

IN SUMMARY

York County Council members voted unanimously to record and televise road discussions.

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