Itís time for boards to stop hiding from the public!
For the past couple months Iíve covered several meetings for different boards in our community. For the most part when I go to these meetings the board members seem like they know where they stand on agenda items and typically they donít take long to make a decision. However, it concerns me that some of these boards do not seem to understand what executive session is.
Executive session is not difficult to understand. A board may elect to enter into executive session if they are discussing personnel matters that involve hiring, firing, promotion, demotion, acceptance of a resignation or disciplinary actions. Anything else has to be discussed in open session, so that the public knows what a board is doing.
When you go into executive session you have to publicly state why you are entering it and when you come out any decisions that were made must be officially voted upon in open session before the public.
Now lets say for instance that a board has to accept a resignation for an employee. If they were to stay in executive session for over an hour and then immediately after they came back into public session made a statement about an issue completely unrelated to the resignation of that employee, would you be suspicious that they might have discussed that topic in executive session? If you say ďyesĒ then to you I say ďHello, welcome to the problem.Ē
Now if Iím being honest I think executive session is literally one of the most ignorant things that exists. The biggest reason for executive session is to assure confidentiality for the board. They can say whatever they have to when an issue like the ones listed above occurs. But I urge you to think about something, if theses boards are going into a closed session to discuss something where no one is keeping them in check, what makes you believe they only discuss what they are suppose to discuss?
Some might say that is where you just have to trust that they wonít violate the law, but what exactly is holding them to that standard. If you commit a crime like assault then you have evidence in that another person is physically injured and claims that you are the cause. If you violate the rules of executive session nothing leaves the room with that knowledge, except for you and the board members and statistically you arenít going to admit to something you did wrong if no one can possibly find out and the only others who know could get in trouble for the same thing.
Iíll admit that I am generalizing. You might have a few honest souls that would do the right thing and tell the public that prohibited topics are discussed, but even if that happens it becomes a case of ďhe said, she saidĒ with no other evidence.
Another thing that really irritates me about executive sessions is when people think that it is a requirement. Executive session is an option, not a requirement. You donít have to do it; you can elect to do it. Why should we as a public trust that these boards will uphold the law and discuss only the proper subjects whenever some of them donít even seem to understand what the actual laws surrounding executive session are? The only answer is we shouldnít.
Some of you may dismiss my opinion through saying that I simply want to know every thing that a board says and that executive session is what protects boards from story hungry journalist eagerly looking to get a scoop, however that simply isnít true. Executive session does not protect a board from me; it protects a board from you, the public. It gives these boards the opportunity to talk about whatever they want and all they have to do is ignore a law that they will likely never get caught breaking. If these boards truly work for the people then what is it that they really have to hide from you?
My issue with executive session does not stem from any difficulty it presents me while doing my job. In fact as a journalist itís my responsibility to make sure that the public is informed. When this kind of thing happens I try to let the public know, but nothing is going to change unless regular people stop and start caring and holding these boards accountable for their actions.