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Looks Public, Acts Public: Is It Public

Thursday afternoon, city managers led an impromptu meeting with concerned citizens about water rates in the city of Independence.

First, kudos to taking the time to hold the meeting. It shows great dedication to the community.

Where things go sour is when City Manager David Clyne insisted that the meeting was considered private, barring it from being video recorded.

Clyne’s response makes us ask — in an otherwise transparent city government — what else could be going on?

That is perhaps unfair to Clyne, but it is a fair reaction.

The meeting was arranged on Facebook and word quickly spread.

Eight people RSVP’d to the event created on the social media network; more than 25 packed into a small room in the Independence Civic Center.

Eli Killen, from Willamette Riverside Studios, was asked by the citizen who organized the meeting to video record. He was asked by city management not to. Clyne said the meeting was private, and city employees have a right to privacy.

Clyne cites in a letter to the city council that because the meeting was not held with elected officials, he and other employees have a right to privacy in private meetings.

Clyne says in the letter that city employees often meet with the public in private meetings, and this was one of those types of meetings.

We agree with the first premise; we strongly disagree with the latter.

This was not a case of a city employee discussing an issue that concerned just one citizen — say, Jane has a problem with her meter reading.

This was a discussion with a large group of citizens concerned about something that affects every resident of Independence — water rates, and the water and sewer systems.

Independence city management had no obligation to take minutes or give public notice about the meeting, but that in no way makes the meeting private.

While we respect the right of city managers to meet with individuals in a private capacity, it is difficult to see how public managers, in their public capacity, addressing the public in a public building about a public utility can call the act private.

Denying video recording and claiming a right to privacy in this case flies in the face of transparency, which Clyne has been adamant about preserving. Regardless of motive, it cast a shadow on the very transparency the city works hard to maintain, sending mixed messages.

City leaders have a great opportunity to make things right. Clearly, more residents than previously thought have much to say and learn about the city’s water and sewer rates and systems.

The city should arrange a second — more publicized — town hall to discuss the water system and rates, in a place large enough to handle a crowd — the auditorium at Central High School, the conference room at Independence Civic Center, or even the amphitheater at Riverview Park.

The city, already adept at broadcasting meetings through live-streaming, can ensure all residents have access to this town hall.

We look forward to a clearly open discussion about water. We also look forward to an even more open government from the city of Independence.

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