Appointment should have been in open

Published 9:09 am Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Maplesville Town Council chose Michael Abbott to fill the empty District 3 seat during its meeting Tuesday. Abbott’s appointment comes after Councilman Aubrey Latham was chosen to finish newly elected State Rep. Kurt Wallace’s term as mayor.

Abbott has years of service as fire chief in Maplesville, and we believe he will be a fine addition to the council. Our intent is not to criticize who was chosen but to question how the appointment was made.

The council started to discuss appointing either Abbott or Chad Brewer, the only two people to submit letters of interest in the position. However, after just a few minutes of reviewing the candidates’ qualifications, the council made a motion to go into executive session to continue their conversation.

This discussion should have happened in the open, not behind the closed doors of an executive session.

Alabama state law allows governments to go into executive session for a few reasons, like discussing ongoing criminal investigations, security issues or pending legal matters with their lawyers.  The law also affords councils the right to meet in private to discuss an individual’s good name and character, which was the reason Maplesville went into an executive session Tuesday.

We believe the good name and character clause does not extend to someone’s qualifications for office. Undoubtedly, the candidates’ personal character likely did come up in the executive session. However, that umbrella does not cover their knowledge of the town, work experience, education or many other factors that would affect their qualifications for office.

Plus, regardless of who was appointed, the new councilman would suddenly represent a good portion of the town’s residents. They have the right to know why and how their new representative to the council was chosen.

It’s also important to remember that just because councils can call executive sessions, it doesn’t mean they have to.

After the executive session, the council came back and voted to fill the position, during which every member and Mayor Latham did say why they were supporting either Abbott or Brewer.

However, the vote ended up with Latham voting for Abbott, splitting what had been a 2-2 tie between council members. It would have been interesting to know what impact the executive session and its content had on the vote.