No reason to expand executive sessions

Published 6:00 am Monday, January 29, 2001

We were glad to see a House committee kill a bill last week thatwould have given public boards more leeway to close meetings.

As former-President Ronald Reagan might have said about thisbill and the Mississippi Legislature, “Well, there you goagain.”

In this particular case, the proposed bill would have givenlocal governing bodies — city councils and boards of supervisors– the OK to have closed meetings for “planning sessions orretreats,” along with personnel matters, pending litigation, landtransactions and several other legitimate executive session itemsthey already have.

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After the shenanigans of last year’s legislative retirementincrease, in which lawmakers retreated behind-closed-doors to raisetheir own retirement benefits while other state employees wentwithout, it is simply outrageous to even consider putting moreunder the umbrella of executive sessions.

Prior to their regular meetings, a number of local governingbodies around the state like to have what they call “practicemeetings” or “planning sessions” where the real debate on city orcounty action takes place.

Some board meetings now are already “cut and dried” whendecision-makers gather at their regular meeting. The Sahara Desertwouldn’t begin to describe how dry they’d be if all the toughdecisions were already made in secret.

The planning sessions and retreats exemption bill was nothingbut bad legislation. The idea of “retreats” for governing boardsshould send up a red flag for all taxpayers, who would end uppicking up the tab. Hopefully, this bill will not be revived in thefuture.

We’ve always maintained that the people’s business is bestconducted in the open. Legislators should be working to closeloopholes for private meetings rather than adding new ones to statelaw. If they keep limiting public access, that ever-expandingloophole could turn into a noose.