Devola sewer: The public has the right to information
While this week’s meeting with the engineering firm handling the Devola sewer project was open to the media and the public, a meeting last week involving the sewering was not.
Devola resident Glen Pawloski invited an attorney to speak to residents about options for them to organize and enter litigation, potentially stopping the project. Among those –not so politely–asked to leave the meeting were members of the press.
We don’t think that was in the best interest of the community, or a fair way to approach this meeting.
First, the meeting was attended by about 200 people. Specific legal strategy was never going to be discussed at this initial informational meeting and in a crowd that size. It won’t stay in the room.
Given that about 400 households will be affected by this, press coverage of the meeting would have been beneficial to those hundreds of people who couldn’t attend, due to work schedules, prior commitments or those who are homebound. They could have gotten full coverage of the meeting and a transcript of sorts to refer back to, rather than an anecdotal summary from a neighbor. The paper, or any other media, could have helped disseminate information through the entire community, not just those in the room.
Second, those running the meeting said it was only for Devola property owners affected by sewering. They then asked city and county employees and the press to leave but allowed other non-property owners to stay, including township trustees and a county commission candidate. It should have either been a meeting just for Devola homeowners or a public meeting. Someone picking and choosing who is entitled to hear the information, and to ask questions, should give everyone a bad taste in their mouths. Who exactly should have the power to decide who gets to stay and who has to go?
Third, The Marietta Times wasn’t able to stay and properly cover the meeting but throughout the evening facts and figures gathered, researched and reported by the Times staff were cited to support the need for the meeting and possible litigation. Are we a valuable community resource or aren’t we? In the same way that our prior work informed those who planned and attended this meeting, coverage of this “private” meeting could have provided some valuable information. People asking questions following the meeting might have had them answered. We provide a community service by attending commission, council and board of education meetings and so much more. Last week, we were blocked from providing this service. We find it fairly alarming that those who called this meeting can only see the value of our reporting in the instances where it suits them, will use it when it provides evidence of their own beliefs and will block any further reporting that could potentially not align with their goals.
Community meetings, whether or not they meet the legal threshold for a public meeting, are best when they are open to a variety of opinions, ideas and inquiries. The fact that this didn’t happen here served only to block the flow of information to a neighborhood desperately looking for it, and was not in the best interests of all involved.