TIMES EDITORIAL: Public meetings are much easier if you hide the word “public”

One of the most important functions of newspapers has always been to provide a conduit for citizens to clearly see what is happening within their governmental bodies. Public notices within these pages keep each of us informed about what our elected and appointed officials are doing on our behalf; they also serve to give all of us the necessary tools to participate in the governmental process.
Thankfully, most of our local government leaders hold high the principle that an open government process is paramount. They put forth considerable effort to ensure that is the rule rather than the exception. Our local elected officials often go well beyond what is legally required to make sure the public is included.
Sadly, that kind of dedication to transparency and inclusion doesn’t necessarily translate to other aspects of our state government.
Unless you find yourself regularly pressing the refresh button on the Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments website, you probably didn’t know that a “public hearing” was held here in Sundance on Thursday night for the proposed land swap between Rare Element Resources and the State of Wyoming. Neither did we – until about an hour before the hearing was to commence.
To be fair, the notice was listed right there on the agency’s website. Anyone who spends their time scouring the plethora of state agency websites certainly would have stumbled across it.
But, based on the turnout at Thursday’s meeting, we suspect there aren’t all that many folks in Sundance who do spend their waking hours wandering cyberspace in search of meeting notices. We can’t say we blame you.
Although there was certainly no legal mandate to have notice of the meeting published in any newspaper, a press release or even a simple email would have resulted in a meaningful notice that gave the citizens of this community an opportunity to engage in discussion – and understanding – of an important local issue.
Instead, the agency chose to take the easier path and the people of this community were left out of the conversation. If you want to hear from the public, it helps to invite them.