Keep Task Force Activities Transparent

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Mayor Bob Edwards has taken a unique approach to town government -- unique for Payson, at least.

In the months since he took office, Edwards has named at least a dozen task forces to examine issues such as water, ethics, public safety, affordable housing, airport, town policies and procedures and streets.

We have not been covering these task forces in the same way we cover council meetings or planning and zoning commission meetings, because we have not been invited to do so. And as far as we know, the majority of the public has not been invited to do so.

These task forces do not post agendas or advertise meeting times and places as other public bodies do.

And that is where we would like to ask for change.

From the people who have come into this newspaper to discuss the task forces with us there seem to be two perceptions out there.

First, there are those who see this as a breath of fresh air. They are glad to see this new way of thinking and are happy to see the discussion opening up beyond the council dais.

But there are also those who are worried. They question the legality of these groups and question their motives.

This second outlook seems to us to be a perception problem that could easily be solved if the task force meeting followed the same open meeting laws as the council.

These task forces, though made up of private citizens, have been appointed by the mayor. As such, they are an extension of our council, not a private group of individuals.

According to state statute, these task forces are "advisory committees ... established by the presiding officer." Under that definition it is required that "All meetings ... shall be public meetings and all persons so desiring shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings."

In theory, we like the idea of what is taking place.

But we also recognize that the danger of any task force is that it can be used to legitimize an agenda through the claims that officials are just "following the voice of the people" by acting on task force suggestions.

By being transparent in all their dealings, these task forces can assure us they truly are the voice of the community.

We would like to see meeting times, dates and locations announced at Town Hall and on the Town of Payson Web site.

And if public comment is not welcome in the name of efficiency, the public and the press should still be welcome.

It is the responsibility of residents to keep these groups accountable.

On Tuesday afternoon and again that evening the process will be truly open to the public. (See story on page 8A.) At Frontier Elementary School, residents are invited to "Define Payson's future" through citizen's input sessions.

People will be asked to brainstorm ideas and offer feedback to those involved in the various task forces. Those ideas will be taken into consideration as the task forces continue their research and put together suggestions for the council.

We encourage everyone to attend one of these sessions. Recommendations by these task forces could directly affect the lives of residents and the future of Payson.

There is value in this process if there is good communication, if this process is open, well documented and broad based.

Editor's Note:
The editorial board of the Payson Roundup serves a four-month term. It is made up of three community members and two members of the Roundup staff -- publisher and editor. The current editorial board consists of Robert Henley, Marilyn Decker, Timothy Ehrhardt, Autumn Phillips and Richard Haddad. Those who would like to serve on the Roundup editorial board should sent a letter of interest to: Autumn Phillips, PO Box 2520, Payson, AZ 85547; or e-mail editor@payson.com

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