Open Meeting Law Applies To Board

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The Rim Country Educational Alliance SLE board has taken up its crucial task with energy and enthusiasm. The board members face a daunting task in overseeing a complex, $400 million project, on which so much of Rim Country’s economic recovery relies.

So it seems reasonable to cut them some slack, despite some of the early, organizational growing pains.

That would include this week’s questions about the board’s adherence to the state’s open meeting law, designed to ensure the public’s business gets conducted in public.

The six public-spirited board members have started regular monthly meetings, but are still working to master the rules that govern such public bodies.

The board already suffered the disquieting resignation of one member as a result of what seemed like poor communications.

Then, this week, the board properly posted the notice of its meeting, but neglected to also post its agenda.

After a discussion during Thursday’s meeting, the attorney hired to provide legal advice made it clear that the board will in the future post its agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting, as required by state law.

Now, admittedly — posting agendas seems like a small issue.

But the scrupulous adherence to the open meeting law remains essential in protecting the credibility of government and the rights of taxpayers. The Educational Alliance must supervise a visionary public-private partnership, which means those six, hard-working volunteer board members will face many unique problems and opportunities.

That’s why they must make sure they don’t create distracting questions about whether the public is getting the full story. The SLE should err on the side making sure everyone understands what is happening — real transparency surrounding their budget, plans and intentions will go a long way to warding off any naysayers.

We’re confident they’ll do just that — and are grateful for their service.

Contracts must be above suspicion

When it comes to public trust, it’s good to remember: It’s not just what it is. It’s what it looks like it is.

So we hope that the Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District will take care in the future to adhere not only to the letter of the state law on contracts, but to the spirit of that law as well.

The district recently split an $80,000 contract into 13 smaller contracts to attach backup generators to 13 wells.

The district says that each well required a different approach to installing a generator to keep the system running even in an outage. Maybe so.

On the other hand, even a trusting citizen might wonder if the real purpose of awarding all those contacts separately was to avoid the strictures of a state law that requires sealed, competitive bids and board approval for any contract over $25,000.

Such suspicions might easily grow roots when it turns out that the same company won all 13 contracts.

And those roots could easily reach the water table of skepticism when it turns out that the company that won the bid was formerly owned by a board member — who filed papers to remove him as an owner right after the company bid on the contract.

Now, we don’t doubt that the district needed the generators — and that they got a pretty good deal on the overall project — which came in under projections. Moreover, we’re full of admiration for the way in which the district has secured an adequate and predictable water supply at a reasonable cost for a community that has suffered from years of water rationing, and bans on building.

That’s why it seems like a mistake to cut corners with things like awarding contracts. The state’s competitive bidding law helps ensure that public agencies get their taxpayers’ dollar worth. Moreover, the requirements for sealed bids and clear criteria help prevent corruption —and even the appearance of favoritism.

So we hope that the district will resist the temptation to mess with the rules, even if it seems like a good idea at the time. Those rules exist for a reason: They ensure an open process, free from taint and mindful of the taxpayers’ dollars.

The public trust is precious: Hard to earn, easy to lose, almost impossible to regain once squandered.

The people who spend taxpayer dollars must strive always to be above suspicion, like Caesar’s wife. You remember Pompeia, right? Caesar divorced her back in 52 BC because she took to hanging out with the dissolute Publius Clodius?

No? Well. Never mind, then.

Just don’t cut corners next time.

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