By Seth Richardson
On Monday, Council members Scott Hente, Jan Martin, Lisa Czelatdko, Tim Leigh, and Brandy Williams stood up for the Colorado Open Meetings law and open government by opposing a move by Council members Merv Bennett, Angela Dougan, and Val Snider to take the Council into closed executive session to discuss a proposal for banning free speech downtown placed on the agenda by City Attorney Chris Melcher.
Herpin blasted the notion that free speech restrictions ought to be discussed outside the view of the public. Good for him and good for the Council members who voted with him.
City Attorney Melcher then withdrew his proposal, “lawful limitations on activities in public places” from the agenda, claiming that by revealing to the public his report on the current state of the law and his advice on “the strengths and weaknesses of proposed ordinances” it would be “communicating to potential opponents of an ordinance what our legal strategy is and what the city’s legal interests would be.”
Well, yes, that’s true, but so what? Public lawmaking must be done in open session precisely so that the public can know what is being proposed and what the legal and moral justifications are for the law.
Melcher’s problem is that he’s looking at this ordinance like it’s an adversarial courtroom procedure where battling attorneys attempt to present their case to a jury in the best light, by deciding what to reveal and what not to reveal, in hopes of persuading the jury to rule in their favor.
The problem is, public lawmaking is not an adversarial process and the City Council is not a courtroom with complex rules of evidence and attorney-client privilege. Public lawmaking is an authority granted to the elected City Council by the people themselves, and therefore the people are entitled to know exactly what the legal and moral justifications for any law under review are. Moreover, they are entitled to have input on those justifications in open public meetings and they are equally entitled to know what the legal interests and strategies of the city are.
It’s their city. It doesn’t belong to the City Council. They are just representatives of the people. So when Melcher complains that revealing his report would compromise the city’s legal interests and strategies what he’s really saying is that the people who elected the Council and the people who pay his salary are not the source of all legal power and authority and that their interests are somehow different from those of the Council.
This is nonsense, and worse it shows a misunderstanding of Melcher’s duties to the people he actually works for.
If his proposal has legal faults or weaknesses, then it’s imperative that the public be made fully aware of these faults, so that the minds of the many people who have a direct interest in whether or not their right to speak freely in Colorado Springs will be infringed may be brought to bear on the issue so that they can give the Council their advice and opinion on a law that stands to substantially impact their fundamental civil rights.
Those members of the Council who resisted the attempt to consider this law in secrecy should be lauded, and those who advocated keeping the public in the dark, including Mr. Melcher, should be ashamed of themselves. And voters should keep in mind who defended essential liberties and who did not come election time.
© 2012 Altnews