Since I'm of two minds about the issue of open meetings and laws to enforce compliance, I thought it might be fun to have the ultimate insider interview showing at least two sides of the argument.

I mean, if you can bring together a veteran journalist and a two-term politician to duke it out over (1) are meetings open enough, and if not, how can openness be enforced, and (2) is it even possible to have truly transparent government, why not take advantage of it?


Full disclosure: I will play both roles, seeing as how I have, in another life, played both roles, and have both positive and negative experiences to call upon. I have been a reporter, assignments editor, managing editor, news editor, copy desk editor, columnist and editorial writer, and for eight years, a county commissioner – a politician.

I understand that some might challenge the idea, but it's no more duplicitous than some other arguments out there.

Let's begin with a question from the media side:

Reporter: What is your position on open meetings?

Elected: I'm in favor of open government; open meetings are sometimes not so open.

Reporter: You mean staged, phony?

Elected: Exactly. Talking points, PR advisers, staff, supporters – and opponents – want to control the show.

Reporter: So what's the answer?


Elected: I don't have "the" answer. I can only amplify the real question, which is, how can mostly good reporting come together with mostly honorable elected officials and their agents to accurately keep the public informed about what their elected officials are thinking about planning, planning on doing and doing what they planned? The violations of open meetings rules usually happen early in the process, where leaders are huddling with staff to determine what needs attention.

Reporter: So it comes down to competent reporters and honest politcians?

Elected: That's a start. Then you need an attentive public.

Reporter: If you give the public all the facts, people will make the right choices, participate, won't they?

Elected: In my hopes and dreams, yes. My experience on both sides of this interview has been that you never have all the facts – neither the press nor the politicians. It's a process, and processes have to work out over time. Media lacks time and space – and patience -- for covering the processes. Some political people use the gaps in real-time reporting to rebut, refute, deny or redirect the processes. Other politicians get sucked into playing a game of defending actions instead of taking corrective steps. Both media and government lose sight of the objective – serving the public interests – because each has other goals that need to be addressed.

Reporter: Like covering your back? Getting re-elected?


Elected: Sometimes it's that simple. Some good people get elected to be involved in the processes; they almost always begin with good intentions. You don't want to lose that. Then there is the second part of the answer to your question: Every critic of the people holding office has an agenda that gets much less scrutiny from the press. The press knows it has to guard against self-interest, but is no better at it than political parties.

Reporter: Explain that, please.

Elected: If the press loses credibility, it loses everything it has to offer. But it will risk that credibility by going too far to show its adversarial role – or for marketing purposes. It will ignore truths from the comfortable and embellish complaints from the afflicted – the losers in the last election, or the opponents on any given issue – to prove it is independent and pure in intent. And that's the best scenario.

Reporter: What's the worst scenario?

Elected: That both the media and the elected forget why they're here. Then, forces willing to use chaos to destroy public trust to achieve power and money and status for their own tribes will win. And that nobody cares until it's too late.

Dean Minnich writes from Westminster. His column appears Thursdays. Email him at dminnichwestm@aol.com.