Should the City Council throw out the baby and keep the dirty bath water?

Sarah Levison, Longmont City Council Member at-large

Times-Call Guest Opinion, May 26, 2010

There's a threshold for whistleblowers

Current City Council just voted for LESS transparency

Once again, unjustified smear tac­tics are on offer to substitute for reasoned public discourse and civil debate on policies and issues.

The May 22 opinion piece written by Chris Rodriguez, which contains noth­ing but his typical unrelenting and spurious personal at­tacks, serves no pur­pose but to deflect and divert public dis­cussion from the true issues. As Ronald Reagan used to say, “There you go again. ” It is my belief that my actions and behavior during the May 18 council meeting are within the norm of previous meetings of the council. I invite readers to review the video of the meeting, on the city’s website: /agendas_minutes.htm.

The fact is that Mr. Rodriguez is try­ing to deflect attention from the reali­ty that the current City Council has disassembled the Longmont Fair Campaign Practices Act or LFCPA.  In particular, the council voted to re­move the quasi-judicial role of the Election Committee. This means that there is no longer a citizen-led, inde­pendent review of the financing of lo­cal elections.

This committee was an innovation that was singled out by the nonparti­san group Colorado Ethics Watch for an accolade in the “Good” category in its 2009 Ethics Roundup report. They said, “most notably, the City Council approved and implemented the task force’s recommendation to create an election committee” and “Longmont’s campaign finance regulations are stronger, city officials are better ad­vised on campaign finance issues and an enforcement mechanism now ex­ists to hold political actors account­able for skirting the law. ”

Thanks to the council majority, it exists no more.

There was a good reason that the Founding Fathers enacted the princi­ple of separation of powers. Judicial review or, in this case, quasi-judicial was meant to prevent the majority from subjugating the minority through legislation. The majority may rule but it does not have the power through leg­islation to diminish the rights of those in the minority. We have seen this prin­ciple upheld in court to assert both vot­ing and civil rights.

Now we must go back to a system where campaign reports have a closed­-door review. The people who adjudi­cate this process either directly work for the council or have their budget controlled by them. The council now becomes the fox guarding the hen­house and can effectively shield cam­paign finances from public scrutiny.

Tuesday, May 18, by a majority vote, the council chose to make our elections less transparent and gave themselves more control over the pro­cess. A trademark phrase made fa­mous by Ronald Reagan applies here: “Trust, but verify. ” The health of our democratic process requires a system that is aboveboard and accessible to public review. Do we choose to seek quicksand or aim for solid ground?

The council majority selected to dump everything back in the box and throw it back into a locked closet. Their solution means the public must once again find a method to get the key holders to unlock the door, turn on the lights and find the box. Don’t let Mr. Rodriguez’s pugnacious tone al­low you to be distracted while the in­terests of a few privileged power bro­kers are preserved and government takes away your right to be informed.

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