Reminding public officials for whom they work

Wyomingites like to take matters into their own hands. They want a say in the policies that affect them and want those who do wrong to be held accountable.

For these reasons, Wyoming residents would have applauded an Illinois watchdog group last week when it placed an entire park district board under citizen arrest.

According to local news reports, the arrests were made after the Clark County Park District Board violated state law by not allowing public comment, even though approximately 30 people sat through a more than two-hour closed session in order to do so.

While some members of the board discussed leaving, the sheriff was called and he took the side of the citizens, placing each of the board members under arrest. What a great option available to citizens frustrated with the lack of openness shown by a governing body.

After all, a body like a park district works for the people. So why shouldn’t the people be able to hold such a board responsible.

Unfortunately in Wyoming, citizens wouldn’t have been able to stage such a demonstration. Wyoming law limits arrests by a private person to felonies or misdemeanor theft or property destruction.

Other misdemeanors, though, are up to official law enforcement to handle.

The rationale likely includes the idea that many would abuse the power. But how often do you hear about citizens’ arrests? Even if you witness a felony, most people would rather call the local law enforcement officers than take it upon themselves to arrest a neighbor.

Beyond making enemies, a private arrest in some situations could prove dangerous. Imagine the situation: “Excuse me, sir, I see you just beat that man up…I’d like to place you under arrest.” It is unlikely the gentleman (or woman) you attempt to arrest would cooperate.

Even in the case of what happened in Illinois, lawyers were telling board members they could leave and were trying to shame one of the women involved, telling her she was making a fool of herself.

Yet there are times, especially when concerning open meetings violations, citizens should be allowed to take charge and make those who work for them listen and follow the law of the land.

As Pat McCraney of the Better Government Association told a local NBC news affiliate, “They work for the public and they, you know, they know they work for the public. Sometimes they might not think about that too much when they are thinking about themselves in a lot of cases, but they work for the public and they need to let the public have its say.”

 

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