In Twin Falls transparency, a giant leap forward

Editorial from the Twin Falls Times-News

Bulldozing something that’s stood for decades and rebuilding it anew takes courage. The Twin Falls City Council showed a lot of guts Monday night when it approved transparency legislation that just might strike down years of flawed tradition.

The legislation is a potential victory for openness and transparency, especially if City Manager Travis Rothweiler gets his way. The initiative isn’t perfect. It requires Council members to police themselves. For now, their resolve to do the right thing gives us confidence that the City Council is sincere in its want for change.

The resolution merely creates a general policy and is far from perfect, but we’re encouraged, especially after hearing Rothweiler’s pitch. He convinced us that something better will almost assuredly rise from the ashes when all is said and done.

Following Monday’s 6-1 vote, Rothweiler outlined a potential practical application of the Council’s dictate. He said that in the coming weeks he will propose opening up the most sensitive committees, such as the city’s group that negotiates with businesses eyeing the region, by turning them over to the City Council. The groups would be public, under the city’s new policy.

“I believe this is a really appropriate step,” he said.

We railed Sunday against the sudden $75,000 raise for City Attorney Fritz Wonderlich. Our criticism wasn’t about whether Wonderlich was worth the pay increase. It was about how the entire issue was never made public until it reached the floor for an up or down vote. It was a stark example of what has been broken in Twin Falls for far too long.

Much of what happens in these long-closed subcommittees will remain outside of public view in executive session. That’s legal. That’s the system. But any final vote to move the issue to the City Council for consideration will be done in public. Clif Bar representatives made it very clear during those negotiations that if the company’s name reached the media, the deal could die. We understand Council members’ concerns about job-killing leaks. But we also believe that the public, who will be affected by new development, should be involved somewhere in the process. It’s a fine balance, one that can’t be completely tilted toward corporate interests. Making this work will require some massaging.

This was a quintessentially democratic process, rife with personality clashes and political rifts. It was beautiful. The City Council worked through it and ultimately embraced change and we laud them for it.

The initiative’s ultimate success, however, will be decided in the coming weeks, as a city government is redesigned piece by piece. The new subcommittee structure will determine the actual significance of Monday night’s vote. But Rothweiler’s comments are an indication that the city is about to enter an new era of transparency and citizen involvement.

Should that happen, Twin Falls will be a model for Idaho’s local governments to aspire.

Editorial from the Twin Falls Times-News

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