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We’re keeping watch on closed sessions

In response to recent events by local public bodies that preferto conduct public business behind closed doors, safe from theprying eyes of their constituents, we begin in today’s edition anew report that documents those secret meetings.

This new report, called “Open Meeting Watch,” will be a regularfeature, updated and published as necessary whenever area publicbodies call closed meetings to discuss public business. It will belocated at the bottom of the Opinion Page in Sunday editions.

Open Meeting Watch was created in response to reader requestsfor us to respond to the recent challenge by the Brookhaven Boardof Aldermen to “take them to court” if anyone disagreed with theirclosed-door meetings.

Due to the lack of enforcement options in Mississippi’s openmeeting laws, we see a lawsuit as an expensive option thateffectively accomplishes little, in that no fines are allowedagainst public officials who violate the law. The Open MeetingWatch allows area readers to keep regular tabs on what is beingdone behind closed doors, which public official is calling thosemeetings, as well as any official who may be in opposition to theclosing of meetings.

It should be noted that state law, under certain instances,allows for public bodies to retreat into executive session. Whatstate law does not do is clearly define some of the exemptions.While the open meeting laws make allowances for closed meetings,those meetings are not required to be closed — it just allowspublic entities the option.

For the record, the meetings listed in the Open Meeting Watchare not a complete list, but only represent those closed meetingswe considered significant. In the future, all closed meetings willbe listed and will be included on our website.