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Breaking the mold

Jan 20, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

A suggestion to have a county commission meeting at a different time of day has merit

All across Fremont County this month, governing entities are adjusting to the interjection of new names and new faces. With those new names and faces come new ideas as well.

One example is the suggestion from new Fremont County Commissioner Stephanie Kessler that the commission consider an occasional nighttime meeting.

In the best tradition of brainstorming, in which new ideas are given a fair hearing without judgment, the rest of the commissioners agreed to consider the idea.

It would be out of the ordinary, but that's rarely a bad thing in and of itself. There is enough inherent stability on the commission and within its standard practices that something that strays a bit from the comfort zone can be weighed without appearing flighty.

There definitely are reasons for the commission to consider convening several meetings each year outside the familiar Tuesday morning format at the county courthouse in Lander. There have been commission forums of various types in other places and at other times, but a full-fledged meeting, with the regular agenda in place and the commission staff present, clearly would be a way to bring county government closer to the public.

We have a big county, and most of the citizens affected by county government's actions and policies are working at their jobs Tuesday mornings, or are going to school or are tied up with other daytime duties.

So, sometimes, it's good for government to come to them, or at least come closer. There is precedent from other parts of government. Committees of the U.S. Congress meet regularly away from Washington, as do committees of the Wyoming Legislature, in addition to the familiar Meet Your Legislators sessions.

Event the Wyoming Supreme Court moves around the state from time to time. A day-long session of the state's high court on the Central Wyoming College campus in Riverton has happened a couple of times, both memorable days.

The concern of added cost was raised following Kessler's question, but we'd bet voters would go along with the idea as annual budget items either for a nighttime meeting once per quarter, as well as a meeting in Riverton or Dubois from time to time.

Such meetings probably would improve the general public's understanding of, and appreciation for, the local government process. They also could help spur new people to volunteer for the numerous county boards and advisory groups that always need volunteers, and there likely would be a potential commission candidate or two who would take their inspiration from a meeting at an hour or place that made it possible for them to attend for the first time.

It's hard for a local government to go wrong in trying to narrow the distance between itself and its constituents -- meaning those who elect the officials and whose taxes pay for government programs and, often, the wages or other compensation paid to the office holders.

The commissioners are to be commended for hearing this suggestion (from a new commissioner in her first meeting, to boot) with an open mind. May that spirit continue as these other new and interesting ideas are considered.

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Fremont County Commissioners