July 30, 2014 10:37:39 AM
Oktibbeha County supervisors and Starkville aldermen both have something in common: They recently tended to business outside the constraints of their published agendas.
Both boards passed policy decisions this week that were not clearly spelled out as potential action items before their meetings. While both policy changes were needed, we feel local leaders could do a better job informing the public of potential action.
The county board of supervisors' agenda, a comically underwhelming, one-page document, was issued last week with no mention of addressing a tabled nightclub ordinance. Again, the same, poorly-detailed agenda document sat on display for the public Monday afternoon before the meeting, yet supervisors passed the motion unanimously with little discussion.
We feel the ordinance is needed to help curb problematic nightclubs and establish necessary life-safety requirements, but how can residents approach the board about business they do not know is up for consideration?
Sure, residents at any time can address supervisors in a small window allotted for public comments, but failing to list the item, while not illegal, is the enemy of transparency and open communication.
Compared to Starkville, county agendas barely tell taxpayers what will happen in a meeting. Information is listed for individuals or groups to speak - people are only identified by their last name - and the rough topic up for discussion, but there is never clarity on its scope, depth or nature.
Starkville publishes an agenda on the Friday before a Tuesday meeting that typically details each and every open session point of business, save for any executive session topics. The July 15 package alone was 184 pages.
While we applaud the city's efforts to outline specific agenda items, Starkville aldermen also deviated from its specially called meeting agenda Tuesday. According to that document, the city would only consider approving payments for the two issues; however, six members of the seven-person board changed the city's policy dealing with what payments City Clerk Lesa Hardin can authorize without bringing checks before the board.
The sticking point with Starkville is that, unlike supervisors' own regularly scheduled gathering, the city held a specially called meeting. Miss. Code Ann. 21-3-21 states "business not specified" within a specially called agenda "shall not be transacted at the meeting."
City officials argue that the subject and nature of Tuesday's action covered the scope of the meeting's aim to pay bills, but again, another local board deviated from its own agenda and made policy changes without alerting the public.
The city and county may be within legal thresholds with their actions, but both boards are doing a disservice to voters by not informing them of potential resolutions and tending to undocumented business after setting their agendas.
For true transparency, we urge both boards to fully list all business on their respective agendas. If an alderman or supervisor wants to bring up a new point of business, he or she can announce their intent publicly at the table and schedule the matter for the next meeting, thereby allowing public discourse to begin.
Additionally, it's time for the county to produce detailed agenda packets for its residents. Supervisors may tout the county's website as a tool for two-way communication, but how can residents truly interact with its government if they have no idea what business the board will tackle?
If supervisors wish to truly represent the people, it's time to let the sunshine in on governance, thereby allowing residents to give qualified opinions on current matters.