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September 21, 2010

1

Mayor talks about JPA jam

by Deena Winter

Mayor Chris Beutler was on Jack-n-John today, and addressed an issue I blogged about last week: How the three-member arena joint public agency has difficulty communicating without violating the open meetings law.

The law prohibits a quorum of the board from talking business outside of public meetings, and since there are only three people on the arena board, any time two of them talk business, they’re violating the law.

“It is a very practical communication problem,” Beutler told J&J.

It’s a problem, he said, because normally they’d “try to work out problems”privately ahead of meetings to avoid a lot of “fuss” in public. That sounds like the school board’s modus operandi, doesn’t it?

Of course, reporters are usually more partial to boards that work out problems in public, like the City Council (although the council seems to be getting better at avoiding public rows). Gives them something to report.

Even though the City Council gets dinged for being dysfunctional, I like the transparency of debating issues in public rather than taking care of problems in closed-door subcommittees or private meetings and e-mails. Otherwise the formal meetings feel like a farce.

But back to Beutler.

To get around this problem, he said the JPA board has been communicating through third parties — which he’s been told is legal. But he said “some thought” has been given to adding another member to the board (as I reported). He gave a hint as to the dilemma though when he noted all JPA votes must be unanimous to pass, and “the university and city have slightly diffferent interests.”

The JPA board is comprised of Beutler, Councilwoman Jayne Snyder and UNL Regent Tim Clare. It would seem obvious that if a fourth member were added (by a JPA vote), it would probably be another UNL representative. However, that unanimous vote requirement quickly led to a tenuous situation early in the JPA’s life, when Clare darn near held up everything with his insistence that the city not use union-favoring contracts.

Adding another UNL member would only make it more difficult for the city to ensure it’s in the driver’s seat on this $340 million project.

Which is probably why Beutler said “at the moment,” he’s content to leave things alone.

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1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Ed Patterson
    Sep 22 2010

    Since apparently it is legal to have communication via a third party, why not have that ‘third party’ be the general public, by requiring that all communications, whether at an official open public meeting, or otherwise, occur through instant message or email services, with offsite backup archives on permanently retained read only media.
    Making this digital record available online, and searchable, would cure a number of ailments that city staff and confidants seem peculiarly prone to suffer from:

    • Selective amnesia, particularly when under counsel by the City Legal Department. (The infamous Clintonian, “I don’t recall.”)
    • Dog ate my homework. (Disappearance of records that the City is known to have in its possession.)
    • Needle in a Haystack. (One 8 ½” sheet of paper in a moldy store room with several million other sheets and no particular indexing system, would be instantly curable by having all the records be searchable, digital text documents, or if bit mapped images were involved, then each would be identified with digital text tag words or titles.)

    As it stands right now, the City often can’t find things, even when it wants to, so that could possibly serve as a motivator to overcome ingrained habits and implement such a system. Sarbanes Oxley imposes a similar requirement on major corporations. The City Legal Department on the other hand counsels City Staff to behave as though immune not only to telling the simple truth when under oath, but to simply behaving with common decency. One comes to appreciate how parties to the Magna Charta in 1066 must have felt.

    Reply

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