Leaders should remember executive sessions are serious

Published 8:27 pm Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I tried to cover my first Chilton County Commission meeting Monday.

I say tried because I spent just as much time outside the commission’s meeting chambers as inside.

The commission went into at least three executive sessions Monday to discuss legal matters and the good name and character of individuals.

It could have been more than three, I’m not sure, because I left three hours into the meeting when the press and other members of the public were asked to leave for the third time.

Before I hit the commissioners too hard, I must say that I’m still new to the community. Maybe this isn’t how business is done regularly … I sure hope not because the meeting didn’t leave a good first impression.

I covered the county commission for a county much larger than Chilton previously, and I feel comfortable saying it didn’t go into an executive session even once every three months much less three in one meeting.

I’m going to believe this was a once-in-a-year meeting where there was enough important business to warrant three closed-door discussions. If I find out that’s the case, I will gladly publish something saying as much.

I remember the first meeting I covered that went into executive session. The city I was then reporting on voted to close the meeting to discuss how much they were willing to pay for a piece of property.

Though real estate negotiations are technically covered under state law, I thought readers had every right to know how much this city was willing to shell out for this lot.

I went back to the office and wrote an editorial — the same sentiment applies here in Chilton County too.

Going into executive session is serious, and when governments vote to do so, it is always worth noting.

While the law does allow officials to close meetings to discuss certain things, the action should not be taken lightly.

Sure, there are occasions when going into executive session is appropriate, even necessary, like when governments are discussing ongoing criminal investigations or pending legal cases with lawyers.

Still, executive sessions should come few and far between. Leaders have a charge from the people to operate in the open, where the public can see what kind of work their elected officials are doing. Leaders should also remember that while they might be able to go into executive session it doesn’t mean they have to.

I said it then and will say it again, it is always in the best interest of everyone in leadership roles to remain as transparent as possible, to “let the light shine” through everything government does and not operate under the secrecy of closed meetings.