Sometimes, when you’re focusing very closely on accomplishing a specific goal, it helps to step back -- about a mile.
Perhaps at this point that strategy might be helpful to Coulee Dam, Elmer City and Greg Wilder.
Wilder’s examination of Coulee Dam’s plans to upgrade its wastewater treatment plant have inspired Elmer City officials to realize just how much they’ll pay for it, and now lawyers are involved. Some Elmer City folks are starting a petition. And one wonders if a near-midnight visit by police to photograph Wilder’s long grass was strictly about enforcing a nuisance ordinance. (Police really were on an enforcement push, but 11:15?)
Let’s take a deep breath.
Cool heads on the Coulee Dam Town Council might reasonably conclude the whole sewer plant upgrade direction might need a rethink, one that includes customers who had no say in the initial planning process (whether they were invited then or not). The town’s recent application for different funding that would save nearly two-thirds of the interest cost of the project suggests that more of the plan might benefit from a few more frugal eyes.
And Wilder, who has made effective use of the state’s basic tool for holding government accountable to the people -- the Open Records Act -- should rethink all the records requests he has made of the town of Coulee Dam, keeping in play only those requested records that he really wants.
He shot out another request right after the midnight photo shoot. That will add to the town’s (and taxpayers’) general burden, for which they currently seek a records clerk to answer Wilder’s requests, many of which would not have been made had the records he really wanted been provided as requested.
Honoring requests for records is something every government should do readily. It’s our right to know what government is doing on our behalf.
But, tempting as it might be, using the Open Records Act as a tool for anything other than getting needed information is abuse of the system. It’s the kind of abuse that leads cities and counties in this state to perennially push for watering down the law, which would be a disaster for state democracy. Ironically, Wilder may be both the best and worst case for arguing either side of that debate.
The whole situation, when seen from a distance, is beginning to border on the absurd.
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