Sioux City leaders are considering making major changes to how the Tyson Events Center and Orpheum Theatre operate. At its regular weekly meeting on Oct. 9, the City Council is scheduled to vote on whether to leave the two public venues under management of the city's Events Facilities Department or hand them over to a private management firm, Philadelphia-based Spectra.
The path they choose could play a consequential role in the type of entertainment and volume of events the two venues host in the future, as well as the level of local taxpayer dollars required annually to keep the city-owned Tyson solvent.
With the stakes so high, we were disappointed a city committee charged with advising the council on the issue opted Wednesday to make its recommendation in private, instead of in a public session. By Thursday, we were pleased to learn the Events Facilities Board was looking to reverse its ill-conceived original decision.
The panel of 11 citizens, appointed by the council, gathered Wednesday to hear a final presentation from Events Facilities Director Erika Newton. Her department submitted a proposal that calls for revamped city operation of the Tyson and Orpheum as an alternative to Spectra's bid.
During the meeting, the advisory board decided not to take a public vote on its recommendation to the council, Journal Staff Writer Ian Richardson reported. Instead, Board President Tim Seaman said he would poll each member via email and then forward the results to City Manager Bob Padmore. Such a move would save time, Seaman contended, since the board typically only meets once a month.
On Thursday afternoon, though, Seaman sent a new email to board members to see if a quorum would be available for a meeting next week to hold a public vote (as we wrote this, no date for the meeting was set). The change of heart came after Councilman Dan Moore expressed concern, after reading The Journal’s story Thursday, that the panel might be sending the wrong message on public transparency.
We are optimistic the board will follow through and allow the public to witness the proceedings. Iowa's open meetings law is designed to shine light on deliberation and discussion, not just on final decisions, according to the Iowa Freedom of Information Council.
While casting ballots by email does not seem to violate the open meetings law, holding a vote in a setting open to the public is always a "good government practice," Iowa FOIC Executive Director Randy Evans told The Journal Wednesday.
"I think the people of Sioux City deserve to know what the rationale behind the advisory board’s decision is," Evans said. "What are the factors the advisory board members are seeing to justify the recommendation one way or another? What elements of it are they weighing in their opinion?"
While the Events Facilities Board is not comprised solely of elected officials, it's covered by the open meetings law because it's among the advisory bodies expressly created by a local statute, formal resolution or ordinance to develop and make recommendations on public policy issues.
That provision does not apply to a separate, smaller panel that also has been reviewing proposals for management of the Tyson and Orpheum and will make a recommendation to the council. That panel is a working group formed by Padmore. Besides the city manager, its members include Assistant City Manager Mike Collett, Events Facilities Board member and Sioux City Journal Editor Bruce Miller and Orpheum Board member Dave Bernstein.
In the interest of public transparency, we believe it would be prudent for that panel to also share its decision-making process with the public.