Although Lawrence city commissioners might like the convenience of being able to discuss city business privately among themselves, the current move toward raising the commission's official quorum probably would do little to improve the quality of government in the city.
And there's always the possibility that some future commission could take advantage of the higher quorum to lobby fellow commissioners privately about upcoming issues.
Commissioners are scheduled to consider Tuesday a measure to raise the official quorum for the five-member commission to four. That would mean four commissioners would have to be present for the city commission to conduct business. It also would mean, however, that two commissioners could discuss city business privately without violating the state's open meetings law.
The law prevents "a majority of a quorum" of any public body from discussing business outside a public meeting. With a quorum of four, the majority of the Lawrence City Commission's quorum would be raised to three, meaning that a meeting of two commission members would be exempt from the law.
Commissioners interested in raising the quorum say the move would allow them to gain important information and background from fellow commissioners. But if it's information they're looking for, city administrators ought to be able to help them out. If they want to know where fellow commissioners stand on an issue, that discussion is better handled in public session.
There's also ample opportunity for commissioners to discuss issues with various community members who may provide input. In fact, their time outside their weekly meetings might be better spent gathering community opinion than in talking to fellow commissioners, whom they see at least once a week anyway.
Chances are, the city commissioners would be responsible in their use of the increased quorum, but there's always the possibility for abuse. The open meetings law was created to make it as difficult as possible for public bodies to deceive their constituents about the reasoning and motivation behind the actions they take. Sanctioning the private discussion of public business by even two city commissioners compromises that protection.
Perhaps the discussions would be convenient for city commissioners. Better yet, they might help speed up lengthy Tuesday night meetings. But the benefits of the higher quorum still seem to be outweighed by the possible detriments.