Private groups, public officials, open meetings - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Private groups, public officials, open meetings

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Posted: Tuesday, May 6, 2008 11:34 pm | Updated: 11:05 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A serious misstep during Sunday's meeting for Guadalupe residents to debate alternatives for local law enforcement should be a strong reminder that any time a majority of people on a government body gathers to discuss public business, state law requires that the public - including the media - be allowed to witness the conversation.

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As Tribune writer Paul Giblin reported Monday, some private groups organized the meeting at a Catholic church to discuss options for replacing the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office as the local police force. Naturally, members of the Guadalupe Town Council wanted to be on hand to hear what their constituents had to say.

Giblin told us he was informed that Guadalupe followed the practice of other East Valley cities and properly posted a notice beforehand that most council members might attend. Five of the seven council members were introduced at the start of the meeting, so it was clear to everyone that a quorum was in place.

Such notices alert the public to a gathering which could affect government policies later so everyone else has the same opportunity to attend and listen, a basic expectation of Arizona's open meeting law. This law applies any time and anywhere a majority of a government's elected officials get together to talk about issues they control, not just when they gather in their normal meeting hall.

Unfortunately, Giblin and other media reporters were ordered to leave the church by the private organizers when the general meeting was broken into smaller discussion groups. The open meetings statute still applied, so the private organizers put the Guadalupe council members in an awkward position of appearing to flout the law and, theoretically, at risk of being removed from office.

We doubt any penalties are necessary here, as reporters weren't stopped from returning to the meeting once they made it clear the public couldn't be excluded as long as the Guadalupe Town Council was present. But Town Council members should have told the organizers not to exclude anyone from the public, or those members should have excused themselves rather than staying in an illegal meeting.

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