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Editorial: Workshops move discussion out of public eye

The Farmington City Council approved a new set of goals Monday night. That's a good thing. A city should have a plan for where it wants to go in the coming years.

Listed among those goals is a desire to maintain good communication with residents. That is also good, but it doesn't necessarily fit with the way council members developed their goals.

The city's goals document took shape in a series of workshop meetings that, while technically public, were held outside of council chambers and away from the cameras that record and broadcast regular council meetings. Discussion of the goals at Monday's regular meeting was over in less than five minutes.

The Farmington City Council is certainly not alone in moving meatier discussions to off-camera workshops and using regular meetings to take action but hold little discussion. The Rosemount City Council holds regular workshops in a conference room that is mostly full once council members and city staff file in. Residents can show up, but there might not be a place for them to sit. The District 196 School Board frequently meets before regular meetings to hear staff reports and get questions answered.

Residents can attend any of these meetings, but they rarely do. Anyone who watches on television misses the bulk of the discussion and sees only the result.

The Farmington School Board gets some credit in this area. They hold a workshop meeting once a month, but those discussions take place in front of the same cameras that capture regular meetings. Residents can watch in the audience or from the comfort of their own home just like they do with regular meetings.

This is not a new issue, and it is not the first time we've raised it. With cable television and online streaming elected bodies have more opportunities than ever to put their discussions in front of the public, and more and more it seems they are moving in the opposite direction.

That does a disservice to residents.