This newspaper takes its role as a government watchdog seriously. That said, we don’t get much in a bunch if occasionally a city, county or other public entity errs in its duties to keep us and voters informed.
Mistakes happen. We understand that.
However, when an entity continuously and egregiously flaunts its responsibility to conduct public business in public and with proper notice, the gloves come off.
The Joseph City Council has been in crisis mode the past few weeks. The inability to keep staff has reached crisis proportion. The budget process is in complete disarray.
A continuous round of meetings have been held, most of which The Chieftain and the taxpayers in Joseph know little about. Many residents have contacted us to voice their dismay.
Not only is this behavior unacceptable, it is potentially illegal.
The Oregon Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual (bit.ly/2ImcZX6) is abundantly clear in interpreting the law and how it applies to cities.
The Oregon Public Meetings Law –– even with its obvious flaws –– requires that public notice be given of the time and place of meetings. This requirement applies to regular, special and emergency meetings. The city must maintain a list of people who wish to receive agendas and meeting notices by email or fax.
The law requires that the notice of any meeting “include a list of the principal subjects anticipated to be considered at the meeting.” This list should be specific enough to permit members of the public to recognize the matters in which they are interested.
While there is latitude and procedure for adding items to the agenda, this document cannot be willy-nilly cast aside once the meeting has begun resulting in free-ranging discussion of any topic anyone tosses into the pot.
If an executive session is being held, the discussion must be limited to the topic(s) listed in the statutory provisions identified as authority for the executive session, which must be plainly referenced in the meeting notice.
We do not consider tacking an agenda to the city hall door sufficient notice, and it certainly doesn’t meet the spirit of the “open meeting” law.
In addition, we believe that members of the city council are sending each other private email messages discussing city business. This is a clear violation of state laws adopted to ensure that the government process remains open to the public.
The content of these email messages –– considered public record –– can be demanded by The Chieftain or any taxpayer.
If the situation at Joseph City Hall where public information is concerned does not improve this week, The Chieftain will seek every means possible to force compliance and bring about any consequences such as the law may allow.
We encourage our readers in Joseph to stop by city hall or call the mayor or one (or all) of the council members to express your disgust at the current behavior and demand that it right the ship.