My friend Scott Boyd, a fellow Southern Miss alum and longtime publisher of the Macon Beacon, has always called them “secret meetings.” I’ve always considered executive sessions government playing politics with the public’s business. And there’s no lack of politic playing in Calhoun County.
The law allows local governments to enter executive session for the following reasons – discussion of personnel, to discuss pending or potential litigation, discussions about the potential sale or leasing of lands, to allow school boards to discuss problems with a specific student, and negotiations regarding the expansion or locating of a business or industry.
While the law allows all of these issues to be used for governing bodies to kick the public out of their meeting so they can talk secretly, the law does not require an executive session on any issue.
It is a choice. That is worth repeating. It is a choice made by the respective board to close their meeting to the public.
In our county, that choice is made most often by the school board. Over the past 15 months (the school board meets the last Monday of every month), the Calhoun County School Board has entered executive session during 10 of those meetings.
In comparison, Calhoun City and Vardaman boards of aldermen, over that same time period, have entered executive session three times each. Derma and Bruce have held executive sessions only once the past 15 months. The county board of supervisors hasn’t held a single “secret meeting” since the start of 2013.
It should be pointed out the school board obviously is dealing with thousands of students and they’re obviously going to have cases arise when it’s important to protect the privacy of the individual student. As a regular attendee of the school board meetings, I know that most of their executive sessions involve a parent addressing the board, but many of those cases don’t necessarily warrant kicking the public out.
Monday night, Jeremy Aron, of Bruce, whose wife Sandy serves Bruce Elementary as principal, addressed the board on what he said was “Title IX” issues – the alleged failure of the school district to treat girls’ sports the same as boys’ sports.
Aron told the board he was going to be talking about actions or the lack of by specific personnel, but it’s difficult to see how that warrants a closed meeting.
If the school district is not acting in accordance with Title IX, shouldn’t that be brought out into the light so that it may be corrected? If these claims are illegitimate and the school district isn’t doing anything wrong, shouldn’t that be known?
The school board opted Monday night to operate in the dark.
Kicking the public out of the meeting, out of any meeting for whatever the reason, always evokes the question who is trying to hide what?
The public’s business should be conducted in public. Nothing positive comes from operating in the dark.
Email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter @joelmcneece