Of porcupines, policy and politics (John Skipper column)

2013-09-08T23:59:00Z 2014-10-20T14:46:39Z Of porcupines, policy and politics (John Skipper column)By JOHN SKIPPER Mason City Globe Gazette
September 08, 2013 11:59 pm  • 

Did you hear the story about one fellow asking another, “What’s the best way to catch a porcupine?”

“Get a barrel,” said his companion.

“A barrel? Why?” asked the first man.

Said the second, “That will give you something to sit on while you figure out your next move.”

Governments have a tendency of sitting on barrels when tough situations come up. On the federal level, sequestration comes to mind.

Sometimes sitting on a barrel is a great idea — if the intent is to make an informed decision rather than just putting off making one. A case in point occurred at last week’s City Council meeting.

The issue was whether the city should start charging citizens for fulfilling their requests for public records.

City Administrator Brent Trout said there is a big difference between someone requesting a one-page document and someone asking for 20 or 30 years worth of copies of lengthy documents.

If a request for information takes hours of staff time, Trout thinks individuals should have to pay for that — but he sought the council’s advice before implementing a policy.

The council discussion that followed was one of the best I’ve observed in many years of council-watching.

Council members had widely differing viewpoints. Yet their discussion was civil, respectful and informative. No one was hesitant to speak up.

Alex Kuhn said, “Mason City citizens knowing they have an open, transparent government they can trust is more valuable to me than the monetary value we would charge for researching information that they are already paying for as a tax- payer.”

In other words, they shouldn’t have to pay an extra fee.

But John Lee pointed out the new disorderly premises ordinance, a pet project of Kuhn’s, provides for a police service fee — an extra charge to taxpayers.

Kuhn and Scott Tornquist suggested charging only for requests from out of town.

But Travis Hickey said he favored charging for all requests. His point: Why should all taxpayers share the cost for individual requests for information?

Trout also wants public records requests published on the city’s website.

Kuhn and Tornquist thought that was unnecessary — but Lee and Jean Marinos thought it was in keeping with having a transparent government.

Janet Solberg was uneasy about charging city residents but was concerned about requests that could be costly to the city.

In the end, the council decided to monitor the requests for 90 days, determine how much staff time is taken up and what the cost is to taxpayers.

Given that information, they thought they would be in a better position to make a decision.

In other words, they wisely decided to sit on the barrel until more research could be done on the porcupine.

- Reach John Skipper at john.skipper@globegazette.com.

Copyright 2015 Mason City Globe Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(3) Comments

  1. YouDon'tSaaaay
    Report Abuse
    YouDon'tSaaaay - September 09, 2013 6:39 pm
    Nicely done, John. You have a nice touch. I enjoy reading your columns. Keep up the good work!
  2. Todd Blodgett
    Report Abuse
    Todd Blodgett - September 09, 2013 12:27 am
    'Robin Hood in Reverse' is EXACTLY what the current policy is, as it effectively takes from the poorest taxpayers and subsidizes the richest. That's because poor people don't make the most time-consuming requests; wealthier folks do. What could be more fair than allowing each Mason Cityan 12 free requests per year, and having those whose requests require the most staff time pay for them? Public utilities would be run out of town if they made their poorest customers subsidize their richest ones.
  3. Todd Blodgett
    Report Abuse
    Todd Blodgett - September 09, 2013 12:21 am
    Allowing each Mason City resident one free request per month (as was discussed by the Council) would work fine. Those who want more than one should pay. City Hall workers who process such requests know that the really BIG requests emanate from those who can EASILY pay for them. To oppose requiring payment beyond one request a month is to favor forcing EVERY taxpayer - which INCLUDES the poorest taxpayers - to subsidize the richest taxpayers. MC should END this policy of 'Robin Hood in Reverse'.
Comment Policy
Keep it clean. Avoid language that is obscene, vulgar, lewd or sexually-oriented. If you can't control yourself, don't post it.
Don't threaten to hurt or kill anyone.
Be truthful.Don't lie about anyone or anything.
Be nice. No racism, sexism or any other sort of -ism that degrades another person. PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK, and forgive people their spelling errors.
Let us know if it's getting out of hand. If you see offensive comments, don't quote or respond to them. Please use the "Report Abuse" button to bring it to our attention.
Share what you know, ask about what you don't. Give us your eyewitness accounts, background, observations and history. What more do you want to know about the story?
Stay focused, and ask questions. Keep on the story's topic.

Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick

Follow Us

Deals, Offers and Events