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VA Court To Review "Official" Email Rules

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the instant-messaging-considered-seditious dept.

Communications 102

imac.usr writes "The Virginia Supreme Court will hear arguments today on a case brought by a Fairfax County resident alleging that the county's school board members violated the state's Freedom of Information Act. The suit alleges that board members colluded to close an elementary school in the county through rapid exchange of emails with each other. The state's FOIA rules stipulate that such exchanges can not constitute 'virtually simultaneous interaction' and that any assemblage of three or more members constitutes a formal meeting which must be announced. The article notes similar suits are popping up across the country, highlighting one of the difficulties governments face in balancing communication with transparency."

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I fuck nigger bitches. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701343)

I fuck nigger bitches.

Re:I fuck nigger bitches. (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701373)

you could have just said 'first'.

Re:I fuck nigger bitches. (-1, Flamebait)

hackula (2596247) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701933)

even saying "frist" would be better in this case.

Re:I fuck nigger bitches. (-1, Offtopic)

wmbetts (1306001) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702189)

"go drink some frosty piss" is my personal favorite. It reminds me of cheap beer.

difficulties? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701381)

"any assemblage of three or more members constitutes a formal meeting which must be announced."

Sounds like simply following the rules would work best.

Re:difficulties? (1, Insightful)

MichaelKristopeit491 (2549322) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701395)

you can't legislate morality.

Re:difficulties? (4, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701457)

You can legislate anything you damn well please. You can even enforce a good majority of it. Whether or not it will work as intended is another matter.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit491 (2549322) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701535)

legislation that doesn't "work" is not legislation.

you're an idiot.

Re:difficulties? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701735)

Someone should beat you with a dictionary; that way you at least have a passing familiarity with it, moron.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit420 (2018880) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701847)

someone should beat ur mum's face with a dictionary; that way "you" at least have a passing familiarity with "it", idiot.

cower in my shadow some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Re:difficulties? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701905)

someone should beat ur mum's face with a dictionary; that way "you" at least have a passing familiarity with "it", idiot.

cower in my shadow some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Oh MK, you never cease to entertain. Keep up the good work chap.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit420 (2018880) | more than 2 years ago | (#39716965)

ur mum's face never cease to chap.

cower in my shadow some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Re:difficulties? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702625)

You are what you claimed to be. Absolutely nothing.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit501 (2018074) | more than 2 years ago | (#39716949)

i claim to be Michael Kristopeit.

you're an idiot.

cower in my shadow some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Re:difficulties? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39703841)

This actually made me laugh, wish I had mod points.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit404 (1978298) | more than 2 years ago | (#39716987)

do you know what the word "judge" means? do you know what happens when legislation is determined by a "judge" to not "work"?

someone beats you, moron.

you're an idiot.

cower in my shadow some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Re:difficulties? (2)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701567)

ALL legislationis someone's morality. you just can't compel it. punish, yes. compel, no.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit420 (2018880) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701679)

how is tax legislation on a fiat currency a moral issue?

if threat of punishment can't compel, then nothing can.

you're an idiot.

Re:difficulties? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701731)

Oh good, Michael Kristopeit is posting under a real screen name again. Let me guess, everyone is an idiot, slashdot has stagnated, and I'm pathetic. We all get it, you're the smartest man in the world, we're all fools basking in your glory. Now, please go crawl back under your bridge before we get a sunburn from all the basking.

Re:difficulties? (1)

Nidi62 (1525137) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703631)

how is tax legislation on a fiat currency a moral issue?

if threat of punishment can't compel, then nothing can.

you're an idiot.

Morality cannot be compelled. It can only be instilled.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit421 (2018882) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703795)

uh... this is what i said:

you can't legislate morality.

what part of that do you disagree with?

could someone not be compelled to instill morality? do you not understand your ignorant denial of transitivity?

you're an idiot.

Re:difficulties? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39716729)

uh... this is what i said:

you can't legislate morality.

No ya dint. Your smelly pothead alter-ego said that.

you're an idiot.

No ya dint. I'm like glue; everything you say bounces off me and you're a filthy fucking cocksucker.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit421 (2018882) | more than 2 years ago | (#39716883)

i am Michael Kristopeit... i have but one ego. ur mum's face's smelly pothead alter-ego said that.

you are most certainly an idiot.

cower in my shadow some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Re:difficulties? (1)

MichaelKristopeit501 (2018074) | more than 2 years ago | (#39716899)

(Score:-1, Insightful)

slashdot = stagnated.

Re:difficulties? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701503)

Dammit, wrist twitched while I was picking a mod.

Disclousure needed here (2)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701603)

any time folks in public office create a consensus by whatever means then it should be made public (unless its provably not in the public interest like say the daily Lunch Order).

of course this is an example of how public offices should be limited to 2 terms 1 in office and 1 in JAIL

Re:Disclousure needed here (3, Informative)

SonnyDog09 (1500475) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702451)

In my town, council was using email before, during and after meetings to script votes. It cost one of the ringleaders his seat. http://www.annarbor.com/news/leigh-greden-apologizes-to-ann-arbor-city-council-colleagues-for-his-role-in-e-mail-scandal/ [annarbor.com] Use the ballot box to teach the buggers a lesson.

Meeting in slow motion? (5, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701419)

OK fine, I'll check my email from 8-8:30AM and 12-12:30PM, my fellow board member will check his mail from 9-9:30AM and 1-1:30PM, and so on so we have at least two "round robins" per day.

By the end of the week we'll accomplish what would've taken half an hour, but it will be in secret and nobody will be the wiser.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (3, Interesting)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701655)

By the end of the week we'll accomplish what would've taken half an hour, but it will be in secret and nobody will be the wiser.

Except that there will be a written record of 100% of the entire discussion.

Frankly, I fail to see the problem here. As long as record are kept, these email discussions are even better than having minutes of meetings from a public transparency perspective. Of course, it all involves the public actually having access to the emails, so there's probably an issue there.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (5, Insightful)

jmauro (32523) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701727)

The issue is that meetings should be public so the public can know what's being discussed, can be there to watch, and be able comment on the proceedings since the board members actually you know work for the public. Doing the meeting via email does keep a paper trail, but it doesn't allow the public to weigh in on the decision. That is the issue.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (2)

jader3rd (2222716) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702101)

The issue is that meetings should be public so the public can know what's being discussed, can be there to watch, and be able comment on the proceedings

I think that this is one of the reasons why people find government to be so slow. Personally, I kind of wish that government behaved faster, and was able to solve problems with more efficiency. By having the paper trail (of the emails) the public can look at what was decided, and then re-elect/remove the officials as needed. By not having every single last interest group gumming up the works, the public officials might actually get something done. Do I want public officials to run around unbound? No. But by not having to have every decision go through 2 billion commitee's, they might actually get some work done. I do want to enable public officials to do the job they were elected to do, and then be held accountable for their actions during their performance evaluations/elections.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (4, Insightful)

jmauro (32523) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702403)

What you'll find though is the well connected interest groups would then rule the roost and pretty much run roughshod over everyone else, all so the connected groups can make the most profit at the expense of everyone else. And by the next election it's usually too late to overturn the decisions (and if it's really controversial they'll just run someone else who'll keep the machinery flowing to the right connected parties.)

We tried the closed meetings, get things done way before and it was so bad laws like the Open Meetings and Sunshine laws since keeping things secret and getting things done led to things like general corruption and machines like Tammany Hall. Having everyone gum up the works (i.e. having all sides voices heard) is a feature of the system, not a bug.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (2)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703903)

I kind of wish that government behaved faster, and was able to solve problems with more efficiency.

If you let them move fast enough, you won't be sure if you're the latest problem they're trying to solve until it's too late. Gridlock is good.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (2)

gmack (197796) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702317)

They could just use a mailing list for public meetings and have people comment that way.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (1)

cuog (1082549) | more than 2 years ago | (#39716521)

I think most of the comments you'd actually get would be offers for discount viagra, and various other wonderful bits of spam.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (2)

itsdapead (734413) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701717)

OK fine, I'll check my email from 8-8:30AM and 12-12:30PM, my fellow board member will check his mail from 9-9:30AM and 1-1:30PM, and so on so we have at least two "round robins" per day.

Or just do it over the phone... and its less likely to get recorded somewhere. Or use a really fast bike courier. Or a pigeon. Or hold a good old-fangled restroom meeting.

I assume those would be just as illegal, because having different rules just because you're using email would be nuts. On the other hand, institutions have never seen a need to append recorded messages to phone calls or stamp disclaimers on outgoing mail, lest someone receive the message in error or think that the message was the official view of the institution, so maybe emails are different to any other form of communication.

(My favorite auto-footnote was the sage advice to think about the poor forests before printing this email which, oh-so-frequently, was just enough to make the message spread onto a second page if you did need to print it...)

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (2)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702687)

...hold a good old-fangled restroom meeting.

Probably not a good idea [wikipedia.org] . However, a confessional might be appropriate.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39703959)

That's the first thing my mind went to:

The Larry Craig scandal was an incident that began on June 11, 2007, with the arrest of Larry Craig—who at the time was a Senator from Idaho—for lewd conduct in a men's restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport

Two taps to confirm, three taps for the special treatment...

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702965)

(My favorite auto-footnote was the sage advice to think about the poor forests before printing this email which, oh-so-frequently, was just enough to make the message spread onto a second page if you did need to print it...)

You mean the one that makes the message spread onto page 2 of the PDF?

I use a PDF as my print preview. If page 2 is useless, I don't send it to the real printer.

Same goes for "this map may contain blah blah construction" that Google puts at the bottom of driving directions.

Re:Meeting in slow motion? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701843)

Why not have a few friendly games of golf? You can discuss the same things, there will be no written record and you can charge your club membership to the city.

The fix was in. (5, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701433)

As it happens, my son went to Clifton Elementary, and the fix was definitely in on its closures. The pretty solid feeling against closure on the part of the Clifton Community was ignored, and a lot of people in the town feel railroaded. (The presumption is that some real estate developer wants the prime real estate the school sits on, and spread enough money around to make it happen.)

Re:The fix was in. (2, Insightful)

cpu6502 (1960974) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701511)

The politicians knew what they were doing. Making decisions behind closed doors so the public could not object..... similar to how Congress passed the NDAA during the holidays when the public was distracted, and the president signed it on New Year's Eve.

Which "NDAA"? (5, Insightful)

daveschroeder (516195) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701643)

You mean the National Defense Authorization Act, which is the entire federal defense budget, and of which there is one every single fiscal year, is always passed around the same time, and which always has controversial provisions because they're easy to stick into a defense spending bill?

Oh, you mean the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012, which had a total of about two controversial sentences out of hundreds of pages, clearly codifying what has been standard practice for persons identified as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay for several years?

The one that people thought was some kind of a "secret plot" to indefinitely imprison random American citizens in military custody without trial, even though the wording says persons must be a "part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners"?

That NDAA? Oh. Yeah. Completely and totally unrelated. But nice try bringing something like military detention provisions into a story about a local school board's email communications!

Re:Which "NDAA"? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701775)

Bitchslap that slashtard with cold, hard facts! I'd mod you up, but I'm out of points.

Re:Which "NDAA"? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39701781)

And since there is no due process of any kind, no one has to show that an undesirable is "part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners." So that claim that the government can indefinitely imprison random American citizens in military custody without trial remains valid.

Re:Which "NDAA"? (3, Interesting)

KiahZero (610862) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702703)

There isn't a trial (in the sense of adjudicating guilt or innocence) but there is initial and triennial judicial review of the detention, so it would be rather difficult to imprison random Americans under this authority (unless you're assuming falsification of evidence like birth records, in which case there's not a damn thing that can stop the imprisonment of anyone).

Re:Which "NDAA"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702957)

There isn't a trial (in the sense of adjudicating guilt or innocence)

How about a trial in the sense of:

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

Re:Which "NDAA"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39704041)

Oh oh oh! Hard choice! Hrmmmmm, I thinkkkkkkk.... I'll take the one that keeps the children safe! Let's go with the recent updates to the Patriot act. That's the right one right?!

Re:Which "NDAA"? (1)

KiahZero (610862) | more than 2 years ago | (#39706675)

"In all criminal prosecutions. . ."

That introductory clause is important. These detentions aren't criminal prosecutions; they're justified (shakily) premised on "the law of war." Anyhow, my point was merely that there is judicial review in the NDAA detention authorization, and so there does have to be a showing before a court that a person is subject to the detention authority.

Re:Which "NDAA"? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703855)

Well, there's process, and all the parts of the government agreed that it was due even if it's not the same process that occurs in the criminal justice system. And while I concede that there's something fundamentally wrong with different "parts" of the same body determining whether its own actions are proper, that's true for all issues, and most people are probably in favor of detaining accused terrorists or sympathizers indefinitely, so it's hard to think of a better method aside from the fictional benevolent dictator.

Re:Which "NDAA"? (1)

tomkost (944194) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702463)

So if the govt violated the constitution in other ways like started searching houses for "contraband" anytime it felt like it, and then later codified that into law, you'd be ok with that too??? I agree with the rest of your post, but line 2 is very bad argument.

Re:Which "NDAA"? (1)

daveschroeder (516195) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703231)

This assumes that detaining (in military custody) persons who have taken up arms against the United States and have been identified as enemy combatants violates the Constitution. I submit it does not. Others, including yourself, may disagree. The military detention provision was designed to clear up this issue, and I'm not saying it is without controversy.

Re:Which "NDAA"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39703947)

This assumes that detaining (in military custody) persons who have taken up arms against the United States and have been identified as enemy combatants violates the Constitution. I submit it does not.

And I submit that it does.

If the USA is not at war and a person takes up arms against the USA, then that person is a criminal. If the person is not charged, then it is unconstitutional to detain him. If the person is charged, then that person has a constitutional right to a speedy, public, and fair trial.

If the USA is at war then a person who takes up arms against the USA is one of: a criminal, a spy, or an enemy fighter. A criminal has the constitutional right to be treated as above. A spy should have a fair military trial, and if found guilty, should be shot. If the alleged spy is found not to be a spy, then he is an enemy fighter. Enemy fighters (soldiers or enemy civilians who have taken up arms) are prisoners of war. They are to be treated humanely as detailed in the Geneva Conventions, to which the USA is a signatory. They may be detained until the end of the war, at which time they must be repatriated.

“Enemy combatant” is political phrasing attempting to create some separate “special” class of enemy not listed above. It is a lie. The above cases cover all circumstances and the USA Constitution and/or the Geneva Conventions cover all the cases.

And to those who would shout that the Constitution does not apply to foreigners, you should read the actual text. The Constitution applies to people not just USA citizens, all people, anyone anywhere under USA jurisdiction (including Gitmo and including USA occupied enemy territory). There are just two instances where the Constitution limits itself to citizens: only a citizen may vote; only a citizen may hold elected office.

The Constitution applies to all people, including “enemy combatants”.

Re:Which "NDAA"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702779)

You, sir, are my hero. I wondered why they kept calling it NDAA instead of calling it what it was (whatever that may have been). And now I know.

Thank you for enlightening us to another instance of deliberate misinformation being spread by cpu6502/commodore64_love.

Re:The fix was in. (3, Insightful)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701517)

The presumption is that some real estate developer wants the prime real estate the school sits on, and spread enough money around to make it happen.

So I assume the bribery investigation will be coming soon? I grant you, if you investigated public officials for taking bribes, there wouldn't be many left in office, but still ...

Re:The fix was in. (3, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701641)

Bribes? Surely such a thing does not exist in 'Tis of Thee!
Only legal contributions made from the goodness of the corporate heart, with absolutely no unspoken expectations attached.

Likewise I am sure that these fine gentlemen and gentlewomen never tried to circumvent regulation, and never used e-mail to assemble and reach a quick resolution behind the back of the public.
Perish the thought! How unpatriotic to even suggest it!

Re:The fix was in. (1)

mbone (558574) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702947)

Who said anything about bribes? I would assume everything is at least nominally legal; that's how it is generally done.

Re:The fix was in. (3, Interesting)

darkmeridian (119044) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701747)

Yep. One unanswered question is whether or not the emails and electronic exchanges were logged using official servers. Sarah Palin allegedly used her personal email account to discuss state business outside the scrutiny of disclosure laws. Closing down a bunch of schools without a public hearing per se over unlogged email exchanges would be contrary to good, transparent government.

Re:The fix was in. (1)

parlancex (1322105) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702195)

Of course the community was against it, many small communities use their local school as community halls, and associate their school with their Local Smalltown Values Education(tm) that Big Bad City Schools(tm) couldn't possibly provide, that in itself is not a good enough reason to stop the closure.

The job of a public school board is to balance the needs of all it's constituents, and in many cases that means sacrificing smaller schools in order to provide a better level of funding and quality of education in a larger more consolidated facility.

I sincerely doubt that this alleged bribery from a developer a factor, and certainly the only factor in this decision

Re:The fix was in. (2)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702401)

Bribery comes in many forms. If there is a possible buyer for the property which will fill a shortfall gap in funding (even if it's only a years worth) and they can avoid a tax increase, that's basically a re-election guarantee for all the people screaming their taxes are too high.

Last year, our board of supervisors voted to approve bonds to build two schools and renovate a third, even though it meant an unpopular increase of 12c in the real estate tax rate. Why? Well, it was going to be $25M+ to fix a school who's gym collapsed, and it would still be about 100-200 students undersized when they finished. The school was on the schedule to be replaced in ~10 years, so they decided to commit $55M for a new school. Thing is, a high school on the other end of town had been waiting for a new high school for almost 10 years, along with a middle school renovation ($70M total). There was only budget for about $50-60M in debt service without a tax increase. The school community that didn't have their school collapse vowed to block replacing the school unless they got theirs too.

Well, com this spring, the board of supervisors capped the tax rate increase at 12c before the budget process started. Guess what - Virginia's portion of education expenses is probably going down by $5M to our county this year. Oops. Now their talking about closing 2 elementary schools and laying off a bunch of teachers and charging kids for every sport they participate in.

This board would sell their mother if they could avoid a tax increase. The biggest opponents are (1) the guy in the district that just got a new Elem school and new HS (a 600 student school for a 275 student body, with no real growth potential) and (2) the two women in the district that aren't going to get her HS renovated. If someone promised to give them money for a prime site, I'm betting they'd kick the kids out faster than you can say "but it's not a bribe."

Re:The fix was in. (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702327)

They were closing schools left right and center here (Canada) a few years ago (2006). The school board was also selling the land and keeping the money. I know, holy shit, right? They also spent a fortune doing earthquake upgrades and renovations on one school, then closed it and turned it into the school board offices. One of the schools that had already been torn down was turned into low-income housing, another became a for-profit post-secondary.

Anyway, the provincial government stepped in and said, "You can't DO that. If you are done with the land, let us know. We'll take it, see if another ministry needs it, and if not, then we'll sell it and keep the money."

Not a single school has closed since then. Sadly, nobody went to jail for it.

Re:The fix was in. (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702501)

I too live in the Clifton area. I recall that one of the biggest issues was the cost per child to renovate the building. Clifton housed about 300 students. The neighboring schools housed 600-900 each, with capacity to absorb the Clifton students. The District's budget has been pinched, like most local governments. It seemed to make more sense to mothball the school and redistribute the students. The building has been vacant nearly a year now, and the only offer to "purchase" has been from some former Clifton parents who what to turn it into a magnet school, at taxpayer expense. If the fix is in, who is benefiting? A lot of board members lost their seats, or chose not to run because of this issue, including the Springfield rep. I don't see her driving a new Ferrari.

Their real difficulty (3, Insightful)

Quila (201335) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701605)

difficulties governments face in balancing communication with transparency

More like difficulties on how to arrange actions that affect the public without having to disclose them under FOIA. These bureaucrats long for the day they could impose their will on the people while leaving the people clueless, and they will work any angle on a FOIA law that they can in order to get it.

Re:Their real difficulty (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702519)

As having been president of a society (as in: club): yes, they do and I completely understand and agree. As a general member of the public: they do but I do not f-ing know what to do about because so many retards also have a right to vote and my vote alone is not enough.

Really? (2)

JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701639)

“Decisions were made, people created alliances, and people went into that meeting already knowing which way they were voting,” Hill said of the board’s e-mail about Clifton. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.”

That's usually how votes go unless I'm mistaken.
You don't go into a meeting to vote with a blank mind, you tend to already have your decision ready and thought out.

Re:Really? (2)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701783)

Except the meetings aren't just for the vote. The meeting is where the issue is supposed to be discussed to help everyone form an informed and thought out opinion.

Re:Really? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703927)

Indeed, that's exactly how I do my jury voting. The whole "trial" part is such a tedious delay.

NOT transparency (3, Informative)

tchdab1 (164848) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701715)

There is no difficulty in balance here - it's a deliberate railroad move.
These people are deliberately trying to avoid public scrutiny and do an end-run around their constituents.

In Massachusetts... (4, Informative)

crow (16139) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701725)

The rules are different in each state. In Massachusetts, I serve on a town board (the Planning Board, but the rules are the same for all boards). The relevant law is called the Open Meeging Law. We're simply not allowed to express any opinion on a matter before the board with a quorum of the board outside of a public meeting. We can do things like send out the agenda and documents to be discussed, but we can't suggest a course of action. Further, all emails to and from board members concerning the board are public record, and are subject to FOIA requests.

It's very frustrating not being able to do any business by email. It would be nice if email were allowed, provided that we used a list that was immediately available online on the town web site. On the other hand, I do see how this could make it harder for residents to have their input heard, and it could leave some board members who are not online much at a disadvantage.

Re:In Massachusetts... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702033)

It should be pretty straightforward to get all the board members email accounts with the town/district and use these accounts for all official mail. For discussions, use a listserv that allowed self-registration (for reading, not sending to the list), plus auto-archive software such as Mhonarc [mhonarc.org] . Forget FOIA requests, anybody can access any of the emails any time they wish. I don't think this can replace meetings, which would still be used to hear public input and to vote, but it would speed some communications. I don't have any ideas about how to deal with the members who are not online much, of course.

Re:In Massachusetts... (1)

Zsub (1365549) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702555)

(snip) I don't have any ideas about how to deal with the members who are not online much, of course.

Make available computers to use specifically to browse the archives and related activities? Seems quite reasonable. Also attach a printer so they can print it all and study it at home.

Re:In Massachusetts... (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702739)

How about a facebook page? I hear that's pretty transparent.. Good luck hiding anything there

Re:In Massachusetts... (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703607)

On the other hand, I do see how this could make it harder for residents to have their input heard

Allow residents to email the list. They get to speak at public meetings, so this seems like the obvious equivalent. Public libraries tend to provide free internet access that could be used for the purpose.

Right Outcomes? (2)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701841)

I just love this quote;
“Sometimes you have to compromise efficiency for getting the right outcome,” she said.
As with many of these kinds of statements "right outcomes" could be more accurately replaced with "outcomes I agree with". I think it is very important to note that there is no allegation that the email conversation contained any coercion or improper behavior or that the actual outcome would have been any different if the conversation was done in public. The plaintiff just did not like the conversation not being "seen". The one interesting point was that a board member's opinion was changed. As with most "news" articles they do not go into what opinion was changed. Perhaps the board member thought a different school should be closed but was convinced otherwise. The outcome didn't change in that a school was closed.

Requiring all interaction between three or more members of an elected body having to be announced and made public is just stupid. Does this mean that any time three members want to get together to discuss things as trivial as the design of a poster it must be a public meeting? Lets just grind all decision making process to a halt. The public votes for people and day to day decisions do not need public input; that is micro-management to the highest degree.

Lets look at a couple of scenarios dealing with a discussion that require research to answer questions that arise during a discussion. The point being that every time a research question comes up discussion stops until re research is done. Say a discussion has 3 of these kinds of questions. By email a discussion like this may only take a couple of days followed by a public meeting where what was discussed is made public. If formal meetings are required the following would have to be taken into account;
1. room availability
2. People availability
3. Requirement for notice
It may only be possible to have such a meeting once a week. So instead of a conversation taking a week an a half it will take three weeks. Now do this for every discussion. Email also has big advantages over the spoken word; It can be re-read decreasing misunderstandings. It can be written then edited for clarification. It can be referred to when dealing with facts

To the specific case, I do not see a difference between publishing the email conversations after the fact and sitting in a room while the conversation went on. Observer would have no input into the conversation so their presence would make no difference.The prohibition on using email during a meeting just causes people to go back to passing notes like they did before laptops were available.

Slowing the wheels of government is great if you want to stop something from happening but it is a two edged sword. It also slows implementation of things one wants to happen. Do you want funding to re-build a playground that is becoming a safety hazard? You better plan on a couple of years of "open" meetings. I bet the same people who are complaining about lack of transparency are the same ones complaining about unresponsive and bureaucratic systems. You can't have it both ways. If you insist on open meetings on everything then everything will take longer. All this law means is that people will jump through hoops to stay legal but the decisions will be made the same way.

Re:Right Outcomes? (2)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39701957)

It does make a difference. Have the discussion in a public meeting with observers and the crooks on the board have to look at all of the people smiling as they picture them in a jail cell.

It's also harder to erase the bad PR of a bunch of people watching you be a crook with spin than it is to divorce your image from a few lines of text in a long email chain.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702623)

If they are crooks then why did you vote for them? If you didn't vote for them did you help their opposition or even run for office yourself? As they say; put up or shut up.

If they are crooks do you really think you staring at them will make a difference? Might they just ignore you? If they are truly crooks and they are already planning to break the law do you think that another law will fix the issue? There is an old saying "locks only keep honest people out" which can be extended to "laws are only followed by honest people'. In effect this law make it more difficult for honest people to do their jobs while not effecting the dishonest ones.

You missed the point. The transcripts of all email discussion will become public and in the end the discussion itself will be discussed in public. The public just does not need to be there when they have no input. If there is a dishonest conversation going on it will come out in the last meeting and be dealt with then.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702737)

Sometimes you can only recognize a crook by watching them in action. That works best when you get to watch them.

It's only the following election where you get to vote the crooks you detected out, presuming there are any non-crooks running.

As for me running myself, would you care to write me a check?

Will the transcripts show ALL of the conversation? Can you know that since you weren't able to actually watch?

Re:Right Outcomes? (2)

evil_aaronm (671521) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702249)

Does this mean that any time three members want to get together to discuss things as trivial as the design of a poster it must be a public meeting?

Yes. In fact, if you and a few of the other board members happen to meet up at the local bar after a public session, and discuss what happened in the meeting or any work related to the entity to which you were elected, you could be in violation of your state's rules. The reason is so that these discussions and decisions are made in public view, considering that it's the public's money usually involved.

New board members are - at my district - given an introductory packet that warns against violating the Sunshine laws like this. However, board members still violate the rules: the other members of the school board on which I sat did it all the time. I'd walk in to a meeting, unaware that things were discussed and decided before I even had a chance to hear the proposal.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702771)

I am not talking about what the law says; I am asking is the law reasonable? Do you have any idea how much public meetings cost in time and money? Have you ever seen a public meeting that was less than an hour long? Do you really want to spend thousands of dollars in advertising, security, clerical support, etc. every time a few hundred dollars is discussed? Do you want to delay every decision by months? Treating a thousand dollar issue the same way as a million dollar issue is just stupid. I agree there needs to be public visibility and transparency on the big issue but the is a point at which one is spending more on visibility than the project is worth. Much of the issue of transparency can be dealt with by emails transcripts and a single public meeting.

Perhaps if your Board had a public forum (board members could post but the public could only read) where all board communication were posted then you would have been aware of things being discussed and would have been able to comment on them. Perhaps a companion forum could be added where the public could comment on discussions. That would increase public input and may even garner input from people who do not have the time to attend public meetings. Instead of working against technology how about trying to find ways to embrace it and use it to add transparency.

Re:Right Outcomes? (2)

evil_aaronm (671521) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703273)

A few points:

- Most of the things discussed by the board, typically, were high-level things, like selecting architects for new buildings, or the budget, approving curricula, etc. Smaller things like designing posters wasn't a task for the board.

- The cost of these meetings is less than $100; probably closer to $50. Board members are volunteers. The secretary gets a small stipend. Security and staff are there, anyway, so there's no extra cost. There's a small cart with soda and cookies, sometimes. It's not a lavish event. "Advertising" usually means a blurb in the local paper. The budget for board meetings for the entire year might have been $5,000, when I served a few years ago.

- You're missing my earlier point: I didn't know about some of the things that had already been discussed and decided among other board members because they didn't want me to know. Putting it on the agenda was something akin to "after the fact." Four or more of them had, in violation of Sunshine laws, decided what the board was going to do and then "discussed it publicly," which was simply a farce followed by a quick rubber-stamp vote. This is kind of the point behind the lawsuit in the article: boards are supposed to be open to the public. They're often not. In fact, they're often not open to duly elected board members.

I'm not opposed to technology making things more accessible. I am opposed to people with agendas subverting the system for their own selfish ends.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39705769)

Notice you said "most". By law, everything, no matter how minor, even is it is a subcommittee dealing with a minor issue, would require a public hearing. That is the problem with absolutes like "when ever 3 or more members talk". You have to agree that there are some issue where three or more board members talk that do not require a public audience.

If you want to allow working people to participate in these proceedings then these meetings would have to be held after normal working hours which means that staff and security overtime would have to be paid.

And you are missing my point; by making it easy to make all discussion public it makes it easy to see when back room deals are made. I agree that discussions need to be public but I see little difference between an email log and sitting in a room listening to someone. Lets take your scenario. As it seems to have happened you were shut out of a decision making process. I agree that this is bad and should be against the law. On the other hand if there was an official site where such discussion are meant to take place there would be no excuse for not having the discussion in public.

The law itself has a couple of big holes in it in that three or more people have to be in the conversation and interaction must be "virtually simultaneous". Would you rather have "I talked to Bob, Bob talked to Martha and Marta talked to Larry. there were no more than two people in the conversation at any one time and it was over the space of a couple of weeks so it is legal" or all communications between board members about board issues posted in a public forum? Personally I would prefer the latter.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

evil_aaronm (671521) | more than 2 years ago | (#39706279)

It's not unreasonable for the board to have to convene to discuss issues before the board because the board doesn't decide -every- issue that goes on within the district: the superintendent on down takes care of a lot of day-to-day things. Our board typically met every two weeks because it took about that long to develop enough material to discuss at our regular meetings. Even then, a lot of things were routine matters: approval for expenditures, etc. Some months, especially in the summer, we'd meet only once. Once in a while, if we had a pressing matter to discuss, we'd call a special session. They were to handle single issues that needed immediate attention. And, yes, the district secretary would call the local paper to announce it.

I agree that every means available - if it doesn't appreciably add to the tax-payers' burden - should be used to get the word out and inform members of the community: board meeting attendance was always pretty low, except when there were emotional "hot spot" issues - like cutting a sports program - up for discussion.

However, what's to force those same four or more board members who are already violating Sunshine laws to use the "official" email or forum tool, FB page, what-have-you? Bush and the RNC were, in fact, wrong for using private email to conduct state business, evading laws related to retaining records in the process. Didn't stop them.

The article in question - the lawsuit in Virginia - actually would not be in violation of Sunshine laws in NY. I would regularly email the board president with questions. However, if the number of people on the email list ever reached a quorum, then the matter had to be discussed in public.

Elected officials are going to do skeezy things. The whole point of rounding up board members and making the discussions open to the public was to minimize that and increase accountability. I don't see technology making a dent in changing the behavior of some officials, or improving transparency in the process. Instead, it's easier to ignore people - and thereby silence them - when they're not in the room.

Re:Right Outcomes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39711837)

This is why it costs so much time and money to lobby the US Congress, both by professionals and the members themselves. You can't get a private meeting with 3 or more members to hash anything out. You need to meet one-on-one. "Will you agree to vote for X?", "Yes, but only if congressman Smith drops Y from the bill." Now I have to get a meeting with congressman Smith to get him to agree, and hope he doesn't want something from congressmen #3 and #4, who will want something from congressmen #5 and #6.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

Overzeetop (214511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702413)

You clearly have never seen the show Survivor. Elected bodies are some of the most catty, petty, and vindictive groups of people on this earth.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702453)

Bad analogy; most board members are not trying to win large amounts of money by getting other board members kicked off.

Re:Right Outcomes? (2)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702599)

OK, since when is a crappy TV show some sort of barometer of government? When did this happen? Seriously, are your horizons that small? A CBS reality show somehow provides God's Honest Truth in what way exactly? Your negation of representative government by this method frightens me. You right-wingers will be the death of us all.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

dkf (304284) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702709)

OK, since when is a crappy TV show some sort of barometer of government?

Have you ever watched C-SPAN?

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39703533)

Reality TV and reality television are two totally different concepts. I weep for our democracy that you can't (or worse, refuse to) see the difference.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

DNS-and-BIND (461968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702653)

Democracy is beautiful in theory; in practice it is a fallacy.
-- Benito Mussolini

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39704027)

Slowing the wheels of government is great if you want to stop something from happening but it is a two edged sword. It also slows implementation of things one wants to happen.

Many people are content, even happy, to sacrifice what they want to ensure that people they disagree with don't get what they want. These people are often called "heroes," so it's no surprise that we see it everywhere.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39705449)

There is another term for them; petulant obstructionists. The colloquialism is "cutting of the nose to spite the face [wikipedia.org] ".The point is that delaying all government decisions it not a good thing especially when the same people gripe that government moves to slowly..

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39705993)

I agree, but it's all about context and what side of the issue your on as to whether it's viewed spiteful obstruction or taking a heroic principled stand.

But that aside, if we had an easier way to undo laws (or legislative decisions), I think people wouldn't be so concerned that laws are forever, good or bad. Perhaps a simple majority of citizens should be allowed to repeal any law at any (election) time. That would, I think, balance the interests of government and the public a bit better.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 2 years ago | (#39706017)

I can't believe I used your in place of you're. Consider me suitably self-chastised.

Re:Right Outcomes? (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 2 years ago | (#39707087)

I see nothing "heroic" about causing every decision to be delayed.

Actually it does just take a simple majority; in the next election. The new legislature can repeal laws.

I never realized /. was so against efficiency (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702087)

Some of these comments are absurd. Here in the real world, people need to discuss things in order to do their jobs. They might even need to discuss them with more then two people. That's how you come to an informed decision.

Going by most of the comments here, we should lock up all the decision makers under house arrest where they can't communicate with anybody about anything unless it's at a public meeting, so that whatever whiny special interest group feels like complaining about what they're doing can be as noisy and disruptive as possible if the vote doesn't go their way.

Sure we'll make decisions based on who complains the loudest and at best superficial arguments because there isn't time at public meetings for depth, and sure we'll get nothing done in a timely manner and government will be made even more ineffcient then it is now... but hey, it'll be "transparent" right? As if a giant chain of emails recorded and available under a FOIA request isn't?

What a joke.

Re:I never realized /. was so against efficiency (1)

wmbetts (1306001) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702291)

For a lot of issues they discuss I agree with you. There isn't a need to have a public discussion for every little thing they need to talk about. However, what they're talking about isn't a little issue. It's a major issue to that small town and deserves serious input from the community. How would you feel if the only elementary school in your town was being shutdown? I'm probably not the only person that finds that to be a little outrageous.

Re:I never realized /. was so against efficiency (1)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702487)

Some of these comments are absurd. Here in the real world, people need to discuss things in order to do their jobs. They might even need to discuss them with more then two people. That's how you come to an informed decision.

Yes, they need to discuss them. But not with the other decision makers without public oversight
Discuss them with experts that are not part of the decision making process or discuss them in meetings open to the public. Keep it above board.

you are the joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39702683)

Because you don't realize that efficiency is a burden. Let's have one person making all decision, it would be efficient, but terrible.

Re:you are the joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39707125)

Why? Because you don't trust that person to do the right thing? Or because you know that you, yourself, wouldn't do the right thing.

If the penalty for an elected (or appointed) official doing something clearly wrong/dishonest/?bad? was immediate execution, with no exceptions, the only problem we'd have is overflowing cemetaries or crematoriums catching on fire (see spiegel.de)

Make politician emails public facing (1)

Woil (25266) | more than 2 years ago | (#39702387)

As these people were using an email account supplied by the school district, the simple solution is to automatically make all of the email from each board member public facing. Something similar to google groups email would work. They can discuss things all they want, and it is all in 'public' as it is available right away.

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