Editorial: No, we don’t need permission to report on meetings

  • Tuesday, June 23, 2020 4:16pm
  • Opinion

Coupeville Mayor Molly Hughes doesn’t seem to understand a really basic function of a newspaper, or this thing called the First Amendment.

She also doesn’t seem to have a very high opinion of the intelligence of downtown merchants.

During a recent council meeting, she criticized the Whidbey News-Times for reporting on what was said during a prior public meeting because she felt it swayed the opinions of some merchants before she had the chance to sway their opinions herself.

Although online, it was a meeting open to the public — by law.

The governor’s proclamation regarding public meetings during the pandemic was very specific about remote meetings being open to the public through telephone access at a minimum and that everyone who attends the meeting is supposed to be able to hear each other talk.

The Coupeville meetings have been less public-friendly than many other government meetings on Whidbey Island. It’s hard to tell who’s speaking and audience comments haven’t been allowed during the meetings, though that changed this week.

Newspapers have reported on public meetings since the formation of this nation. It’s the job of newspapers to inform the public about what its government representatives are doing. The importance of the public knowing what the government is doing is the reason for the state’s comprehensive Sunshine Laws. The media doesn’t wait for the “go ahead” from public officials.

During the meeting, Hughes asked the council for permission to temporarily close Front Street to cars to create more space for pedestrians to safely move around. The council told her to move forward with it, which makes sense.

It was a good idea.

But during the following meeting, Hughes claimed some merchants read about her plan in the newspaper before she could get to them, and therefore they came out against it.

Hughes gave up on her proposal. She said the headline caused confusion because it made the decision sound more final than it was, which somehow contributed to people being against the idea.

“Ideally, it would have been nice for all of the businesses to gather in a public meeting and any interested residents that wanted to come and listen and give their two cents,” Hughes said.

Gosh. If only something like that existed. People could give their opinions, the council could make decisions and the newspaper could report on what the council does.

Almost like democracy.

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