Candidates offer support to open meetings pledge

Published 5:00 am Thursday, May 24, 2001

Brookhaven’s three mayoral candidates say they intend to sign aan advocacy group’s pledge to follow the state’s open meetings andrecords laws, but the incumbent said there could be somereservations on the openness of some issues.

“If they’re wanting everything wide open, they’re crazy ashell,” said Mayor Bill Godbold in response to the MississippiCenter for Freedom of Information’s request for mayoral candidatesin 12 state cities to sign the pledge.

Godbold said he “didn’t see anything wrong” with the pledge, andsaid he would sign it after having City Attorney Joe Fernald reviewthe request at the next board meeting. The mayor said, however,some personnel issues involving city employees would still bebehind closed doors.

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“Most of it is personal problems we’re having with them,”Godbold said.

Godbold indicated that discussing those issues in public couldbe potentially harmful.

“We don’t want that, because it would be embarrassing to them. ..,” the mayor said. “All we’re trying to do is protect the privacyof the people we’re dealing with.”

Godbold, the Democratic incumbent, faces Republican Ward 4Alderman John Roberts and Independent candidate Percy Rauls in thegeneral election on June 5.

Roberts was supportive of the pledge, but he also mentioned aninstance where an closed session could be necessary.

“I intend to sign it, and I will stand by it,” Roberts saidabout the pledge.

Roberts said he had not called an executive session during his12 years on the board.

“The only time I’d consider an executive session is if we havesome kind of legal action involving the city,” Roberts said.

Rauls indicated support for the pledge.

“I haven’t signed it yet,” said Rauls, who indicated he wasunfamiliar with the Center for Freedom of Information.

The center is a group of journalists, attorneys, students, newsorganizations and others interested in promoting openness ingovernment. The organization encourages government entities toabide by the state’s open records and open meetings laws.

“Nothing wrong with that,” Rauls said. “I’m going to sign mineand get it back in.”

The pledge was sent to mayoral candidates in Biloxi, Brookhaven,Clarksdale, Columbus, Gautier, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Jackson,Laurel, Meridian, Moss Point, Oxford, Picayune, Starkville andVicksburg. Thirteen candidates in eight cities had signed thepledge as of Wednesday.

“I recognize that the holding of public office in arepresentative democracy is a public trust,” the pledge says.

A letter accompanying the pledge tells candidates: “In ademocracy, the people are sovereign; government serves the peopleit represents. Freedom of information is the means by which thepeople hold their government accountable for the work governmentdoes.”