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Monday, July 10, 2006

D.C. Council Member Defends Closed Government

Hey, all you rubes out there who think open government is a great thing, you need to think again. Or better yet, let one of your betters in government do your thinking for you.

In today's edition of The Washington Post, D.C. Council Member Carolyn Schwartz, a nominal Republican, defends her recent effort to kill a new Open Meetings law for local government in the nation's capitol:

"Take the rent control issue, for example. In an effort to reach a compromise that would ensure that we protect our residents without forcing landlords to stop providing rental housing, closed meetings were held to see if the parties could reach a compromise.

"If we had been required to make those meetings open to the public and abide by the stringent notice requirements, the parties would not have been able to negotiate effectively without feeling that they had to censor themselves. We wouldn't have the rent control bill we now have, one that has the support of both renters and landlords."

And what glorious benefits will the residents of D.C. get as a result of this wonderful compromise worked out behind closed doors? The Washington Examiner explained it in a recent editorial:

"Unfortunately, like any other political solution that seeks to repeal the laws of economics, the new rent control most likely will do what the old rent control law did, which was to produce the opposite effect of what was intended.

"Owners of pre-1975 apartment buildings — which cost more to maintain and produce less income than newer buildings — will continue to be squeezed until their only recourse is selling or converting to luxury condominiums, further depleting the city’s affordable housing stock.

"This government-created 'gentrification' process has been evident for most of the District’s many years of trying to make rent control work. As landlords’ expenses — including much higher energy costs and property taxes — increase at rates far beyond what they are allowed to recoup in rental payments, conversion inevitably becomes the more attractive option."

The result is exactly the opposite of what rent control advocates claim is their intended purpose - reducing the supply of affordable housing in the District of Columbia.

But Schwartz sees the bright side, noting that if their negotiations had been forced out in the sunlight, "we wouldn't have the rent control bill we now have, one that has the support of both renters and landlords."

Maybe that's the real reason why people like Schwartz defend the idea of closed "public" meetings - to keep the obvious collusion being sanctioned by government between special interests from being seen by voters?