Stone Commission should include the public

By: 
NLJ Staff

The News Letter Journal takes great pride in being the watchdog of the community — letting citizens know what local government entities are doing while also doing what we can to hold those groups accountable to Wyoming’s open meetings and public records laws.

As community journalists in a free society, it is our responsibility to inform the public about the most important actions taken by our various local governments. However, our ability to provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions and intelligently participate in democratic self-government depends largely on the willingness of local government officials to truly follow the state’s transparency laws and make public information easily available and accessible.

There have been a number of allegations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior levied by citizens against local government officials over the course of the last several months, and the News Letter Journal has found it necessary to challenge several public entities to be more transparent, honest and respectful — towards citizens and each other — in recent editorials. 

We have yet another story of the growing lack of trust the public has for some of our elected officials on Page 1 of this issue, “County Clerk’s actions are questioned,” and it comes on the heels of the Weston County commissioners agreeing just a couple of weeks ago to spend $20,000 to work with Deputy County Attorney Jeani Stone to address concerns Stone herself had identified regarding the way public business is being conducted. 

Among other things the agreement calls for Stone to help county officials with issues involving commission meetings and communications, and it also includes funds for training that will be provided to boards, departments
and supervisors.

While we were grateful that Stone spoke to many of the concerns we ourselves have expressed about county government, the people of Weston County should insist that she produce a report similar to the one made public by the Gillette City Council earlier this month after a comprehensive review revealed a number of deficiencies, including a determination that the body had failed to adhere to Wyoming’s public records and open meetings laws (See “Gillette council’s actions reviewed” on
Page 14).

In Gillette, the review ultimately determined that the significant lack of transparency by the city council there had done “a tremendous disservice to the community,” but more importantly the report also highlighted “best practices” to address the various issues that had been identified.

Perhaps best of all, the report was shared with the public, which provided the citizens of Gillette with a new level of accountability over their elected officials because the written record both acknowledged specific wrong-doing and made a commitment to implement specific corrections.

A similar public report from Stone to the Weston County Commissioners would serve as an example of government transparency that should be the first and most important component of any training that claims it desires to improve, government transparency. 

More importantly, a public document would help justify the additional expenditure of public funds required to undertake this internal review by producing a level of accountability for county officials that would allow citizens to have at least some degree of faith that this undertaking is truly an attempt at improvement and not just another case of smoke and mirrors.

We respect the integrity and transparency demonstrated by the Gillette City Council’s willingness to allow the public to be aware of its shortcomings, and are encouraged by the example they have provided to boards across the state who have also failed to grasp the importance of Wyoming’s open meetings and public records laws — especially those in
Weston County.

We hope our local boards will demonstrate the same courage in acknowledging their own deficiencies when it comes to transparency, and we will be sorely disappointed if the Stone Commission (for lack of a better term) fails to make such a public accounting the centerpiece of its own initiative to improve county government, thereby setting the tone for Weston County.

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