Editorials

What's the big secret? Taxpayers aren't told

By the Herald editorial staff

Two public agencies meet in secret behind closed doors.

Is it:

-- The Central Intelligence Agency briefing Congress on security threats?

-- The FBI getting a tip from local police about a two-state drug operation?

No. Neither. It must be something far more delicate than that, something like -- Pasco and the Mid-Columbia Libraries deciding on a contract for library service.

So. A library meeting with a city behind closed doors to talk about books.

It's an absurd concept, but a very real one playing out between two agencies that both know better.

The only Tri-Citians who don't have a financial stake in all this hush-hush stuff are the citizens of Richland. They're not part of the Mid-Columbia Libraries system and so have no money in this game.

According to its website, "Mid-Columbia Libraries' financial support comes from property taxes from unincorporated Benton and Franklin counties, annexed cities of Benton City, Connell, Kennewick and Mesa and from service contracts with the cities of Kahlotus, Pasco, Othello and West Richland."

Kyle Cox, Mid-Columbia Libraries administrative services director, told the Herald that the city and district reached an agreement after a meeting on the major issues and just need to iron out some details.

"The people of Pasco really win," he said.

That's great, but the people of Pasco shouldn't have to wait until the ink is dry on this deal before they get a chance to decide for themselves.

Cox would give no details about the arrangement but said more would be revealed, possibly in May. Pasco went along with the big surprise for the taxpayers strategy and left the library people to do the talking.

But there wasn't much of that.

Of course, the state's open government laws allow exemptions for certain things -- consultations with legal counsel and land purchases, for example.

That includes contract talks when public knowledge of the discussion is likely to increase the agency's costs.

That's a tough claim to make in this case. How can disclosing what both sides have already agreed on give either one an advantage?

The following part of the preamble to the state's open government law has been repeated often on these pages. Since it hasn't been often enough for the library or Pasco city officials to get it, we'll repeat it again:

"The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

It's a simple enough statement.

But over the years government bodies continue to "misunderstand" it.

So what have Pasco and the Mid-Columbia Libraries been doing in those meetings?

The libraries' Cox, apparently the only person in the world authorized to talk about this, says he'll let us know more, maybe in May.

"We're optimistic," he said.

We shouldn't have take his word for it.

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