September 23, 2011 2:31:00 PM
Mississippi's sunshine laws are meager when compared to other states.
Certain personnel matters, for instance, are discussed in open session in Alabama and Tennessee. And the records are public.
In Mississippi, personnel matters, even those of civil servants and local government employees, can be discussed behind closed doors.
Despite the laws - which seem to protect boards' privacy just as much if not more than the public's right to know - public bodies can choose to be more open with their meetings and records.
But locally, public boards too often take it to the opposite extreme.
In Caledonia, the mayor and aldermen failed to notify the public of a Sept. 13 budget hearing and meeting, where they passed the town's budget.
Failure to notify the public of a hearing or special meeting is illegal, though notification can be as simple as taping a note to the door at town hall.
The state Ethics Commission can nullify action taken in an illegal meeting. And board members can face a fine of $500 each. (The fine goes up to $1,000 per person for subsequent offenses.)
In Starkville, the school board is considering a policy to regulate or halt recording devices at board meetings.
It's a public meeting. What difference does it make if it's recorded?
In Columbus, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors, Columbus City Council and Columbus school board all record their meetings for broadcast on public TV. And DVDs are available to the public upon request. That's a good thing.
Starkville School District officials admit they have not had a problem with recording devices disrupting meetings. It's just one of several policies recommended by the Mississippi School Boards Association. The proposed policy comes in response to complaints from several districts that have had problems with attendees causing a ruckus when recording meetings.
Why create a fix for a problem that doesn't exist here?
And if it ever does become a problem, it should be addressed case by case.
The state of Mississippi gives public boards a lot of liberty with how open they are to the public. For instance, boards can go into executive session to discuss personnel issues, real-estate negotiations and litigation.
What these boards fail to realize is, those are liberties, not mandates. Board members can conduct the entirety of meetings in open session, if they choose.
And the more open they are to the public, the more we all trust them.
When you close doors and keep us in the dark; we wonder what's up.
We assume the worst.
We start to distrust you.
Don't give us a reason to.
roscoe p. coltrain commented at 9/23/2011 7:16:00 PM:
Uh Birney, Pot/Kettle
1. Our View: An example, an inspiration, a challenge DISPATCH EDITORIALS
2. Voice of the people: Carl Lee LETTERS TO THE EDITOR (VOICE@CDISPATCH.COM)
3. Susan Estrich: Word games NATIONAL COLUMNS
4. Slimantics: Our greatest unofficial national holiday LOCAL COLUMNS
5. Lisa McLeod: One horrible thing wrong with schools NATIONAL COLUMNS