September 15, 2009

Not so fast – spending public money with ’email vote’

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Big picture, it’s a small amount of money, and a no-big-deal kind of project. But it is a big deal, and here’s why.

A board in Wyoming voted to spend $149,000 on golf course repairs.  But it was public funds they were spending. And the entire vote was taken by email.  It came to light, apparently, because one of the members, a representative of the city of Casper, Wyoming, objected to the course of things. And although the board’s rules said it was okay, the board’s attorney eventually heard the truth from this one member, and said, well, it really wasn’t okay. The rules were wrong.

Point is, as the community watchdogs (journalists) go away, less and less of this kind of thing comes to light. This time, one internal watchdog, Stefanie Boster, the city of Casper’s representative on the board, was willing to stand up and risk the disapproval of her fellow board members. The community watchdog, The Casper Star-Tribune, reported out the issue. It goes on the record, and other boards and government panels and committees and agencies know that you can’t spend public money by email. Point taken. This time. 

Thousands of jobs in journalism in the West have disappeared in the last few years. Newspapers have folded. Community blogs are out there doing some of the work in some communities. But if the watchdogs grow fewer or less vigilant, the golf course boards and the state highway commissions and the city councils will be meeting in secret, spending money via email and forgetting they exist only as public servants.  So this morning, thank you, Stefanie and reporter Pete Nickeas of the Casper Star-Tribune.

— Rita Hibbard

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