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Editorial: Transparency in government empowers community

It is somewhat serendipitous that we are amid Sunshine Week, which is a national discussion about the importance of open access to public information and what it means for people and their communities.

While The Estacada News did not intentionally set out to time today's front page story (“Divided district: A rift between principals, central office”) with Sunshine Week, it was nonetheless a good example of what the national observance is all about.

Sunshine Week seeks to enlighten and empower people to play an active role in their government at all levels, and to give them access to information that makes their lives better and their communities stronger.

There will be some who question the motives of The Estacada News in its decision to publish the story on the front page of today's edition.

We understand those concerns and respect the right of those folks to question and disagree — even disapprove — of our decision.

The News did not decide to publish this story without asking itself those same questions. This was not a rash decision. And it certainly was not an effort to sensationalize a story or to intentionally embarrass anyone.

Ultimately, we simply believe the public's right to know about the power struggles at the highest level of the school district outweighs the uncomfortable truth contained within the story.

Essentially, the Estacada School Board was in possession of a letter — signed by all of the district principals — expressing no confidence in Shannon Powell, director of the district’s special services programs. The contents of that letter appear in the front-page story. Powell, who declined to comment for the story, was among the group of high-ranking officials who were asked to fill the void when Superintendent Howard Fetz was ushered to the sidelines.

That letter was deemed part of the public record and was released in its entirety at the request of this newspaper. Had we not made that request, this letter may well have never seen the light of day, and only those at the upper levels of the school district would have been privy to its contents.

We believe in a transparent government — even local school government — that allows the public to bear witness to actions and motivations that shape decisions on how that government functions.

We do not believe it is fair that any local government hide the truth behind secrecy, while delivering a message to the public that all is well.

To the Estacada School Board's credit, it did release the letter in accordance to the rules governing public information. But a request was made that the newspaper not publish its story.

To those who question whether The News should have published this story, we would like them to answer these questions: If you are the parent of a student in the Estacada School District, would you be concerned if you discovered that the district's leadership is divided against itself? Might you be disappointed to learn that some felt you shouldn't be told?

With the publishing of this story, the truth is out there — the sun is shining on an issue for all to see. It's uncomfortable. Even disappointing. But also necessary.

Because we published this story, the patrons of the Estacada School District are in a better position to digest recent news, which involved taking Superintendent Fetz off the bench and putting him back in the game as “quarterback.”

In the end, the letter from the school principals may have been ill-advised. But coverage of that decision was not a mistake. This newspaper's coverage only shed light on an already open wound. How the district responds will be the cure.

— Executive Editor Steven Brown



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