TRANSPARENCY AND FREE SPEECH: “CHRONIC GADFLIES” WIN!

“If we don’t hold our government accountable, things will never change…” Meredith Mechling (see below for “Monroe pays $157,000 to Settle Open Records Case”)

All of us who value free speech, even when it is obnoxious, are stronger for it.” New York Times Editorial about Robert Norse (see below for “Speech, Cranky and Free”)

I often wish I’d called this blog “THE CHRONIC GADFLY“.  Unfortunately, without “Molalla” in the title I’d miss a lot of potential readers and would lose the link to “Molalla”on google, so I had to pass on that great name. But my heart is always with all the great “Chronic Gadflies”, like Meredith Mechling and Robert Norse, who are working for transparency and free speech!

It has been years since I first had the “pleasure” of “meeting” the city “leaders” of Molalla. Almost immediately upon attempting to learn facts about “planning” in 2007, I had to unleash the state’s legal oversight on the then illegal public records process in Molalla – a process that tried to charge usurious fees in advance. I had to argue  with “manager” Atkins and appear at the City Council to hammer home the fact that the Molalla public information process was illegal.

While sad little Molalla has reformed the public information application process, it still often attempts to overcharge for public information – especially when the information has to come from plannin’ Potter. Either plannin’ Potter is the slowest, most incompetent public employee on the planet or he has something to hide, given his consistent default to an $80 charge for virtually any information request.

It was pretty funny to intercept an email generated by dictatorial “manager” Atkins a few years back that called a citizen interested in public information a “Chronic Gadfly”. News flash, Atkins: without “Chronic Gadflies” to monitor the “work” of autocratic “public officials” (like you!), we’d be in an even bigger hole in America than we are already in.

Citizens get the government they deserve: if YOU, a tax payer and voter, are willing to sit back and “trust”, then YOU have no right to complain when closed process dictators like “manager”Atkins, plannin’ Potter and “mayor” Clarke run YOUR FUTURE off the track using YOUR MONEY.

Whether it is city, county, state or national process, only those who participate and who demand answers about public issues deserve our respect. Change is difficult and often ugly – but if YOU aren’t willing to ask the hard questions YOU share the blame for any failures.

Attorney General Kroger is listening closely to the experiences of Oregon’s “Chronic Gadflies” for possible legislative reform of Oregon’s open meetings and public information laws. Kroger is fully aware that usurious charges are one of the prime ways public institutions attempt to thwart the public’s need to know.

Never forget, government “officials”: The PUBLIC owns the chairs you are sitting on, the computer keys you hit, the phones you talk on, your fat paycheck, the buildings where you conduct PUBLIC BUSINESS – we own it ALL! It’s long overdue for the “public officials” to understand that they report to the PUBLIC. They aren’t running the CIA or the Pentagon, they are most often these days “running” failing, funky, going bankrupt public institutions and we want, need and deserve to see EVERYTHING!

Below are two great articles about “Chronic Gadflies” in other cities who have taken their cases for transparent and accountable government to the courts – AND WON!

Go “Chronic Gadflies”! Go Whistle Blowers! Without you we’d have never-ending incompetent, corrupt dictators ruling America. Anyone with the courage to ask questions and demand answers is a hero in my book! As you read the below stories, keep in mind that virtually every scrap of government generated information is PUBLIC INFORMATION!

Article #1:

Monroe pays $157,000 to settle open records case

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MONROE, Wash. — The city of Monroe has paid more than $157,000 to settle an open records lawsuit with an activist who had asked for e-mails between city council members and the city’s lawyer in 2005.

The Daily Herald of Everett reports the city paid the money last week to Meredith Mechling, who was trying to determine whether council members had conducted a debate by e-mail rather than in public session.

The city turned over some of the dozens of documents she requested but redacted certain information, including personal e-mail addresses of council members, and withheld other documents in their entirety under a claim of attorney-client privilege.

Mechling sued for the information in 2006, and last year the state court of appeals sided with her unanimously.

“If we don’t hold our government accountable, things will never change,” Mechling said.

The settlement is $35,000 less than a settlement offer Mechling offered a year ago. It covers the nearly $115,000 she spent on legal fees, plus damages.

The money came from Monroe’s revenue stabilization fund, which is earmarked for financial emergencies.

Mayor Robert Zimmerman said the city has improved its public information efforts and now has two employees who deal with such requests. They’ve received more training, city administrator Gene Brazel said.

ARTICLE #2:

NEW YORK TIMES


December 29, 2010

Speech, Cranky and Free

To the City Council in Santa Cruz, Calif., Robert Norse was a pest long before he sued it. An old-fashioned (and full-time) activist, he championed the city’s homeless and showed up regularly at meetings, making cranky comments and daring members to lose their cool.

Which they did, in March 2002, in an incident viewable on YouTube. As a gesture of silent protest when the Council asked someone else to stop talking, Mr. Norse raised his left arm in a Nazi salute. He was thrown out of the meeting, arrested when he refused to leave and released without charges. Mr. Norse then sued the city and Council members for infringing on his First Amendment right to sound off. But, on the eve of the trial and on his own motion, the trial judge threw out the case because, he said, the people Mr. Norse sued had official immunity.

On Dec. 15, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unanimously sided with Mr. Norse. In a tart and persuasive opinion, Judge Sidney Thomas said that in ruling on his own motion — sua sponte — and without adequate notice, the trial judge had not given Mr. Norse a fair chance to be heard and had thus abused the legal process.

He also made plain that even a guy who’s a pest can count on the protections of the First Amendment. It’s all right to set reasonable time limits on public comments, Judge Thomas said. But if you have a right to be in a place, the right to free speech comes with you.

As the Ninth Circuit’s chief judge, Alex Kozinski, wrote in a concurring opinion about what he saw on the YouTube video, it “clearly shows that Norse’s sieg heil was momentary and casual, causing no disruption whatsoever.” Mr. Norse is not the only beneficiary of the appellate court ruling. All of us who value free speech, even when it is obnoxious, are stronger for it.

DCSIMG

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