Our View: Something to hide?

Steamboat Springs Water Commission meetings

It is hard to determine what the Steamboat Springs Water Commission has accomplished or what direction it is headed. Too bad we won't have audiotapes of the commission's future meetings to help us figure it out.

The Water Commission is an advisory board comprised of Steamboat Springs City Council and Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District appointees. The group was formed in June and was billed as the first step in the eventual consolidation of the city of Steamboat Springs and the Mount Werner water districts. The commission's job is to make recommendations to the City Council and Mount Werner's board of directors on water policies and operations.

It's not clear the commission has made much progress in the four months since it was created. What is clear is that its decision to deny a request to tape the commission's meetings makes no sense.

The commission voted 7-1 against taping the meetings. The official reason is that commission members would not feel free to discuss past disputes between the city and Mount Werner with the tape recorder running.

That's ridiculous. If the appointees to the water commission don't want to share their thoughts on water issues openly and honestly with the public, then they have no business on the commission.

The Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District is a public entity, owned and operated by the taxpayers living within its boundaries. Ditto for the city of Steamboat Springs. Therefore, a water commission comprised of members appointed by the public entities to advise the public entities must itself be a public entity.

At a minimum, the decision not to tape meetings is a public relations mistake. One of the reasons the proposed water district consolidation failed on the November 2002 ballot is that residents had a sense that the agreement was struck quickly and in secret. Refusing to tape meetings simply reinforces that perception.

Who knows? Maybe commission members do have water secrets.

The fact is that if residents want the meetings broadcast on public access television, the water commission should be doing backflips to accommodate that request.

At this point, the average resident probably doesn't have much interest in listening to the commission's meetings, which to date have mostly been debates about decades-old agreements that few understand. Still, as long as the commission exists and meets to discuss and make recommendations on community water policy, the commission should make those meetings as open and as accessible to the public as possible. One way the commission can do that is by taping the meetings.

Who knows? The tapes just might be worth listening to someday.

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