Use common sense when applying the law

By and

Newsflash: A meeting was held on campus, and Chronicle reporters weren’t allowed to attend. Heavens to Betsy, someone call the ACLU.

Every month, administrators, greeks, cops and neighbors meet over lunch to discuss the problems that occur with having Greek Row located in a residential area. And every so often, a Chronicle reporter shows up to document the event for posterity-because, after all, our readership really cares about parking problems on Walcott Street.

These Chronicle employees are told the meeting is closed and shown the door-at which point they run back to the office and someone freaks out over this gross abuse of power.

Utah law doesn’t allow closed meetings! Look it up-The Open and Public Meetings Act!

Then someone inevitably does look it up, and everyone realizes that, no, not every meeting held in Utah is required to be open.

Reasonable people might disagree over whether or not Neighborhood Relations Committee meetings should be open. It must be admitted, however, that you have to look at practical consequences when applying the law to individuals.

If the Open and Public Meetings Act did affect the Neighborhood Relations Committee, the likeliest result would be the discontinuation of the meetings. Given the choice between meeting with Chronicle staffers present and not meeting at all, most greeks-and probably some cops and neighbors-would choose to just bag the whole thing.

More often than not, these meetings are mundane and a waste of time. Students, neighbors, administrators and cops sit around eating stale churros, arguing about whether frat parties or dogs that start barking at dawn are the bigger noise ordinance violation.

Every once in awhile, something more serious gets discussed-but it wouldn’t if reporters were present. Students, neighbors and police officers alike would simply continue munching on their churros, unwilling to say anything that might end up in print and wishing they could go home.

The primary reason to hold these meetings would be completely negated just because someone felt the public had a need to know-except no one would even care.

These meetings don’t affect the “public.” They affect a few hundred people who live on Greek Row. Why does anyone else need to know which house always forgets to pull its trashcans out of the alley on Tuesday mornings?

More importantly, why would anyone else want to know?

No one cares about what happens on Greek Row but greeks themselves, the administrators in charge of them and the neighbors.

In fact, all the fuss begs the question-is this a story because we genuinely think something newsworthy is happening behind closed doors, or is it a story because, once again, we got pissed off that one of our reporters wasn’t allowed into a meeting?

True, reporters are by nature skeptical people, and necessarily so-but sometimes we need to question our own skepticism.

Which is more likely: that there is a great big conspiracy going on among the greeks, administrators, neighbors and cops-or that The Chronicle just got its ego bruised?