The Star-News


Public awareness hard to legislate

Sat, Jul 28 2012 12:00 PM Posted By: Carlos R. Davalos

The state legislature in June decided that as a savings measure they would no longer reimburse local governments the cost of publishing public meeting agendas or the results of closed session meetings.

For semi-professional worriers and full-time skeptics the news was a little unsettling.

If the state wasn’t going to pay cities like Chula Vista or National City to publish agendas, the action would allow the municipalities to abandon the practice of telling the public what government agencies would be discussing during any given meeting.

While the move wouldn’t be shutting people out of public discourse, it would make it harder to know what the topic of discussion was and who was doing what and why.

To their credit, local legislatures appear committed to keeping people up to speed on the public’s  business.
Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda is asking the council to adopt a motion committing the body to continued public notice.

That’s a reassuring move. Unfortunately the councilman probably doesn’t have any influence over a more important issue: awareness.

I will sheepishly admit I do not know what is on my City Council’s next meeting agenda. I will go on to confess that I rarely check the city of San Diego’s  website or review its published notices regarding public meetings. I will hypothesize — sadly — that not only am I not alone, I am probably in the vast majority. As are, I bet, a bunch of Castaneda’s constituents.

The admission is not to infer that publishing meeting agendas isn’t needed. It is not to suggest that as a cost-cutting measure, transparency should be on the chopping block.

Rather I’m calling attention to the fact that I’m not as aware and informed as I should be. And while every effort should be made and preserved to provide the public — me and you — with information about what actions our elected representatives are taking, ultimately it’s our (me and you again) responsibility to be informed. Even if we are not going to be engaged we need to be aware.

But how do you legislate that?  How do you make laws that require us to be aware of what’s happening with our local government? You don’t. As distasteful as it may be, the freedom to be ignorant is one that should be preserved.

But we also have the freedom to learn. And so we must preserve the laws that provide us the opportunities and tools to become engaged.

So while Castaneda should be lauded for asking his colleagues to preserve the city’s commitment to transparency, ultimately it’s up to us to make full use of the opportunity. I hope we do.


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