Have I mentioned how much I love the “Say What?” column in my beloved local newspaper? The Montclair Times started it up last year, and it’s always entertaining to read. It asks sometimes irreverent questions and makes astute observations in the voice of a busy-body citizen who is much more informed than the average resident.
This past week, the column used one of my least favorite phrases: “Jumped the Shark.” Ick. I just hate it. Mainly because the phrase itself has jumped its own shark. And people use it incorrectly. But anyway, the point attached to the phrase is well-taken: A committee’s discomfort should not trump the public’s right to know.
The whole issue is understandably awkward for committee members. Who wants to participate in open meetings when you need to be honest about local issues? But residents are counting on the committees to be open and honest, and the only way to know (perhaps ensure that?) is to have open meetings. And, there you go. Since Montclair residents who have the time to and care to comment in public forums (which is a tiny minority, by the way) are usually quite heavy-handed with criticism and not praise, I don’t blame the committee members for their reticence. But really, comparing township business and the need for privacy to national security? That’s jumping something, even if it isn’t a shark.
Perhaps a happy medium would be to just allow a member of the press into the meetings when confidential items are discussed? Is that possible? Closing meetings is dangerous and unnecessary. Journalists are the public’s first line of defense against corruption. We’re lucky to have amazing journalists serving us in more than one venue. Let them do their jobs.