Open meetings exemptions threaten good government

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Public scrutiny is a powerful tool for keeping tabs on ourelected officials, but the state House voted last week to take thattool away from residents of one north Mississippi county.

Representatives voted to exempt the DeSoto County Convention andVisitors Bureau from parts of the state’s Open Meetings Act, a movethat could allow a public board operating on public money tooperate under a shroud of secrecy.

The chamber wants the exemption, officials say, so it cannegotiate contracts for shows during closed meetings. The measuremust still pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Haley Barbour inorder to become law.

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Granting the exemption would be bad public policy. If otherconvention centers in the state can operate within the current law,DeSoto County’s can as well. If it is allowed to avoid themicroscope of public scrutiny, others will clamor to do it,too.

House members’ failure to see the danger in conducting businessaway from light of day is troubling. The bill under considerationis limited to just one public body, but approval would, no doubt,start the ball rolling down the proverbial slippery slope.

The Senate and Barbour must correct the House’s terriblemistake.