Lessons from sharing it all with the public
As journalists, we believe in public disclosure and public involvement. When questions arise about government records or decision-making, we will almost always argue that it’s better, in a democratic society, to share it all with the public; this promotes an informed electorate that believes in its public institutions.In keeping with this tradition, we think two recent Aspen controversies are instructive:First, in recent weeks, numerous residents complained that the Aspen City Council erred in passing a historic preservation ordinance that might restrict what certain landowners could do with their property. Among their complaints was the fact that the council approved the measure as an “emergency,” without meaningful public input.Second, a group of Castle Creek homeowners succeeded in stopping (at least temporarily) a public trail project in their neighborhood, the main argument being that Pitkin County failed to adequately notice the project and weigh the impact to neighbors.The Aspen Times editorial board is divided on both of these matters. There are board members who feel the city historic ordinance is a victorious strike against rampant development, and others who feel the move was hasty and heavy-handed. Likewise, there are those who feel the Castle Creek homeowners are selfish NIMBYs, and there are those who feel public officials were pursuing a foolish and overpriced trail project anyway.We all agree, however, that openness and transparency in government is a good thing. And we agree that there might not have been enough openness and transparency in these recent decisions.This is a serious matter, because a closed government is more prone to abuses of power and more likely to disregard the public interest. And when people perceive that government isn’t open or doesn’t listen, then they don’t trust it.These issues are at the core of President Bush’s dismal approval ratings, and they plague arrogant, power-hungry public officials far and wide. They needn’t plague Aspen and Pitkin County, however, as long as our local officials always err on the side of openness, disclosure and public access to the process.We hope they will.