Secrecy tainting Q.C. council process - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Secrecy tainting Q.C. council process

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Posted: Sunday, November 29, 2009 11:59 pm | Updated: 1:23 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Our View: Three members of the Queen Creek Town Council kept too many secrets last week about their approach to narrowing the list of candidates who want to take a seat on the council dais. As these three also will be involved in the final vote for who will serve on the council for the next two years, Queen Creek residents deserve to hear their views about the candidates placed on the list of finalists.

Council members Gordon Mortensen, Craig Barnes and Joyce Hildebrandt served on a council committee charged with reviewing all of the applications to replace former member Gail Barney, who stepped down to run for mayor next year. Tribune writer Amanda Keim reported Wednesday the committee met behind closed doors to discuss the candidates, and then selected five finalists who are scheduled to be interviewed by the full council Monday night.

Two of the council members not on the committee, Jeff Brown and Jon Wootten, raised questions about why two applicants failed to make the final list. One excluded candidate previously served on the council for eight years; the other has been active on Queen Creek municipal boards and intends to run for a full term next year. Both appear, at least on paper, to be more qualified than some of the finalists.

So it's no surprise that people wanted to know how Barnes, Mortensen and Hildebrandt selected the candidates who will interview for the post. These council members could have excellent reasons for the outcome. But Barnes and Mortensen refused to provide any explanation whatsoever (Keim reported she couldn't reach Hildebrandt for comment).

Barnes and Mortensen told Keim they are barred by state law from repeating anything that was said during the executive session. But all elected officials have a First Amendment right to speak about their personal views on matters of public policy. Barnes, Mortensen and Hildebrandt would have to choose their words carefully. But they clearly could share their own thoughts about the finalists as well as anyone left off the list.

This matter is crucial because Monday's interviews also are to take place in private. Barnes, Mortensen and Hildebrandt could - in theory - vote to appoint a new council member without a single word of public explanation.

That would be a failure of leadership and democratic representation.

If these private meetings are making it too difficult for council members to justify what they are doing, then move the discussion before the public.

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