It should be about law enforcement, not politics.
If Erie County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter and Sheriff Terry Lyons want to resurrect the county drug task force, they should be prepared to let the public in on the plan.
From the start.
Baxter and Lyons met last week with police chiefs from Sandusky, Perkins Township, Vermilion, Huron and Bay View to review the options for the county-wide police force. We asked that a reporter be allowed to sit in, but Lyons insisted the meeting take place behind closed doors. Baxter, for his part, had no objection to the decision to keep the public out while he and Lyons debated how to spend taxpayer money.
That's part of the problem we have with the task force. It has always conducted its business without any public accountability. There does not seem to be a governing board to which it answers; there are no set procedures regarding its accountability.
Lyons approved a handwritten statement signed by the police chiefs after last week's meeting, but he had no comment otherwise. The news release purported to report what had happened in the meeting. That makes no sense, and we have to ask: Why bother? If Lyons really wanted the public to know he would not have kept the door closed.
Whether blocking out members of the public from the debate violates the state's open meetings law would be up to a judge. But the argument Lyons made -- that the way the task force is structured exempts it from the state's open-meetings laws -- is distressing. A public police force should not be exempt from public scrutiny simply because of the way it is structured.
We urge the sheriff and the prosecutor to keep the door open for all future organizational meetings of the task force, such as it is, including the one scheduled for later this month.
It's the 11th hour for the task force, and if Lyons and Baxter are going to make something work, they'll go to county commissioners for a chunk of cash. That alone should trump the closed-door policy.
Voters expressed themselves clearly in November when they soundly rejected a special sales tax to fund the task force. The only way to overcome that no-confidence vote, we believe, is by creating a task force with clear goals, strong leadership, built-in accountability and public support.
And the only way that happen is if the debate and development is a transparent process focused on law enforcement, not politics.