The Fourth Estate Lives!

Hooray for the Great Falls Tribune’s willingness to go to court to obtain the release of documents surrounding the firing of general manager Lisa Bracco of the Montana ExpoPark. You can read the story HERE.

It’s good to see the fourth estate has a heartbeat, at least in Great Falls, Montana.

The last ten years or so have been pretty tough on newspapers – especially those in smaller markets. Face it folks, besides a few gadflies who frequent the announced public meetings, newspaper reporters are in the best position to hold our elected officials accountable – by asking questions and demanding that their meetings be open.

It appears to be a lot like herding cats – at least in this part of the country.

The Tribune says that Cascade County (MT) government “has closed several meetings during the last two years” and the Tribune publisher says, “Since early March the public has been kept in the dark about the nature of the ongoing investigation of ExpoPark.”

It’s not about Lisa Bracco, because she does have individual privacy rights.  It’s about the county being open, and in my opinion county leaders are not being as open as they should be.

Cascade County has several problems with openness (not to mention other issues). I conduct research for people and often visit county websites in different states to obtain information for them. Cascade County has one of the worst websites in terms of content that I have visited.

A county can show its openness by making information easily accessible through its website.

For example, if you compare Cascade County’s website to Yellowstone County’s you’ll see that Yellowstone County has a Scheduling /Calendar section right on the front page of their website. Lewis & Clark County has an Events/Meetings notice on their front page. Cascade County has nothing.

Another example of openness is if you want to know who is being held in the Yellowstone County Detention Facility, or in the Lewis & Clark County Detention Center, that information is easy to find. Trying to find an inmate in the Cascade County Detention Facility is either impossible through their website, or it’s so well-hidden that it can’t be found.

The Tribune’s editorial board said yesterday “Secret meetings have no place in Montana,” and they are exactly right.

It’s well past time that Cascade County moves into this century.


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