Pierce County has a great story to tell about what went into landing and hosting the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay Golf Course.
County officials say they want to tell lawmakers how the course came to be and how state and local agencies have been working together on the event, which takes place June 18-21.
It plans to tell that story in three-hour briefings to any of about 45 state lawmakers who might accept the county’s offer of a free, one-day ticket to the event. The tickets were provided by the U.S. Golf Association to Pierce County, which owns the Chambers Bay course in University Place.
It’s easy to understand why county officials are eager to tell the Chambers Bay story; they hope to start building support for bringing the tournament back someday. What’s hard to understand is why the media are being shut out of the briefings.
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That closed-door policy has led to some speculation that there’s something to hide, that perhaps the briefings will be little more than meet-and-greets designed to help sidestep state ethics law and allow lawmakers to take gifts they might not otherwise be able to receive.
At $110 face value, the tickets exceed by $60 what lawmakers are ordinarily allowed. But the state’s Legislative Ethics Board ruled in April that lawmakers could accept the tickets if they attended the briefing. They would then have “an objectively reasonable nexus with legislative duties.”
In other words, as long as there’s some medicine along with that spoonful of sugar, there’s no ethical lapse.
But how will the public know that those lawmakers actually attended a briefing in order to get their tickets? The public learns what government is up to chiefly through the media. Yet the county is excluding journalists from the gathering.
Why? Since the county’s PowerPoint briefing presentation will be released to the public afterward, nothing apparently will be going on that needs to be kept under wraps. If the information isn’t confidential, why conduct the briefings behind closed doors? The secrecy creates suspicion that there’s something less here than meets the eye.
Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, notes that access to the PowerPoint won’t tell the public “whether they’re having a cocktail party and there’s this slideshow being ignored off in the corner.”
What’s the harm in allowing a media representative to sit in on one or more of the briefings and report that they are, indeed, legitimately being used to tell a wonderful story?