Editorial: Let the public in

June 7, 2018
Editorial: Let the public in

Plans to dredge Mirror Pond on the Deschutes River continue to inch forward. The city of Bend has named three councilors to a work group that will collect information and report back to the full council with what they learn.

That’s good. Less so is the current plan to apparently hold work group meetings without informing either the public or the press about where and when they will be held.

Secret sessions like these can be legal, but being legal doesn’t necessarily mean being right. In this case the secrecy is dead wrong for the city, for the park district and, arguably, for both Pacific Power and Mirror Pond Solutions, the group that owns the land under Mirror Pond.

While Oregon law allows small advisory groups of public officials to get together without public notice, there’s a limit on that right. The public meetings law would apply if those appointed to the work group, Mayor Pro Tem Sally Russell and Councilors Bruce Abernethy and Justin Livingston plus park district officials, were to make recommendations to the full council and district board about how they should proceed on the pond project. If there will be no formal recommendations, merely the forwarding of information collected, the law says secrecy is OK.

While there’s an argument that can be made for secrecy — it allows for a full and frank discussion that otherwise might not be held — secrecy carries a price tag.

The pond project is not without controversy, and if it is to be successful, it will need public support. It will, after all, require public dollars if it is to be completed, and as city officials gather information about how to come up with a share of those dollars, the public itself should be involved. The same argument applies to the Bend Park & Recreation District, also a public, tax-supported agency. The private Mirror Pond Solutions, by the way, has no objection to having the group meet in public.

The future of Mirror Pond is too important to the future of Bend to bar the public from discussions about what to do next. City and park district officials must recognize that reality and work to ensure the public’s right to attend the work group’s meetings.

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