Common Sense Good Government?

I whacked Sam Yoon around in last week's issue of the Phoenix -- not that I'm apologizing mind you -- so I'm glad to have a reason to speak well of the councilor and potential possible might-be mayoral candidate.

It also helps that in doing so I get to make fun of state lawmakers who are probably all dead by now.

Anyway, to the tale: You may have noticed that an awful lot of pols around town are putting themselves on record in favor of ethics reform these days -- and then skulking back inside their offices hoping that their newfound proactive public stance against corruption will help them, in case their names should turn up in any depositions or documents today.

Instead of just yapping about it, Yoon took some leadership and proposed a couple of fairly simple, common-sense reforms to help let in a little of that sunlight disinfectant we always hear about. He introduced them last week, held hearings yesterday, and the council put them to a vote today.

The first one passed unanimously, Yoon's office reports. That one will require all city commissions and boards to post information on the city website -- information such as the members' names, for example, and when they have meetings, and what they do in those meetings. You know, answers to those arcane questions that certain wild-eyed 'process liberals' are always pestering city clerks with, like: "Who is doing what in our city government?"

Yoon's staff has identified at least 34 commissions and boards that will have to post this info, dealing with all manner of important matters including health, schools, zoning, environment, libraries, housing, and women.

This new requirement will be a godsend for lazy journalists like myself, who will be able to easily find things out about all these groups and their activities, without all the frustrating and time-consuming prying that is usually required. But more importantly, it will be good for basic democracy -- and just maybe, maybe, maybe, it will make some people with authority think twice before doing something they shouldn't do. Anonymity and secrecy are the devil's handmaidens, you know. Or maybe I just made that up; I'm just a lazy journalist after all.

But Yoon also had a second, equally radical proposal, which was that the City Council should produce minutes of its own meetings -- get this -- written in such a way that the public citizenry can understand what happened in City Council meetings.

Anyone who has ever tried to find out what happened at a City Council meeting will understand what a dramatic departure this would be from the status quo.

What most of us did not know, until today, was that publishing a written account of City Council meetings is such obvious common-sense good government that the Massachusetts state government made sure to specifically prohibit it.

That's right, there's a state law, dating from 1947, that prevents the city from publishing City Council debates. I can only assume that the legislature feared that once published, the information might fall into the hands of the Soviets.

So, the council had to table that second vote -- which I suppose I would never have known about, thanks to those 1947 lawmakers (well, that and my own lazy avoidance of City Council meetings), except that Yoon's office sent out a press release.

Yoon will try to tackle this by seeking to change the law through a home-rule petition -- which, perhaps, helps makes him look like Boston's good-government champion. Or, a commie sympathizer. You be the judge.

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