Guest Column: Open Meetings Act a problem in Winnebago County?

By Nichole Larison Sammon

Ted Biondo, a Winnebago County Board member, wrote a blog post for the daily Dec. 14 stating the Open Meetings Act hinders transparency of elected boards and handicaps elected representatives that have to deal with it.

Apparently, Ted Biondo does not feel the law, which guarantees an open and honest government, is important. After all, it is only the cornerstone of our American democracy. This law guarantees our rights as citizens to know what our government is doing and how it is spending our tax dollars. Without this law, our government would be free to hold closed-door hearings on many important topics: taxes, infrastructure, and their salaries.

The fact that newly-elected officials must sit through training on this law and then be expected to follow this law as part of their job description is no different than my ethics or compliance training each year from my company.

The fact that the law requires a majority of the board to be present during discussions is not an overly-undue burden. It is their job to be in that discussion from start to finish. It appears from Ted Biondo’s statements he would prefer a closed room with no media presence.

He wrote, “Three or four board members at a time should be allowed to discuss issues on a seven-member board so that they can at least share ideas to see which ideas might work and which might not.” Apparently from his perspective, this would allow certain members from “keeping their mouths shut.”

I know I can’t speak for everyone, but I did not vote for my elected officials to stand on the side lines, keeping their mouth shut in an important debate, all to avoid looking like a “fool” in the public eye, as Ted Biondo put it. As an elected official, you are paid to be in the debate, you are paid to weigh each side of a debate and make the best possible decision for your constituency, and you must do so in public. That is what is meant by “public official.”

According to Mr. Biondo, “Transparency will only take place when the elected officials, in an open meeting, discuss the questions they have come up with jointly, not individually.” If one is not competent enough to be able to openly debate in the scrutiny of the public and the media, please take your name off the ballet now. Find your true calling in life, as public service may not be your cup of tea.

By putting your name on the ballot, you are asking for the job, the responsibility of working for your constituents in public. The Open Meetings Act is our guarantee you follow through with that promise. Ted Biondo will most likely be running again for his position on the Winnebago County Board in 2012. Remember to vote.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2011, issue

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