Meridian Star


September 19, 2009

Closed door meeting slap in the face of taxpayers

This past week, the Meridian City Council once again had a packed crowd for their regular board meeting. That's a good thing.

The bad part: right out of the gate, before any business could be done, officials voted to go behind closed doors and do the business of the public in private. At least this time they didn't herd the crowd out into the hall. At least this time residents were able to keep their seats. Still, was yet another closed meeting necessary?

We publicly opposed Tuesday’s closed meeting on two grounds.

First, we believe councilmen failed to follow the letter of the law in meeting behind closed doors. The reason given to the public for closing the meeting was to discuss "personnel matters" — one of the reasons state law allows public bodies to close meetings. But the law is more specific. Title 25, Chapter 41 of the state's Open Meetings Act says, "discussion of personnel matters relating to the job performance, character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of a person holding a specific position." The law does allow exemptions, but we believe the law is clear that they have to be more specific than blanket statements. Personnel matters related to what? The public deserves better.

The Supreme Court has stated that while a body shouldn't have to give specifics of the meeting, it must "disclose enough so that the audience can know in fact that there is some specific area (or) matter that the board has wisely concluded should, for the time being, be discussed in private."

Secondly, we believe public bodies — who are elected by the public they serve — should make every effort to do business in front of the public. The law's exemption was never intended to be abused. It should be the exception, not the rule. And the exceptions provided are not to be used to "circumvent or to defeat" the purpose of open meetings law.

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