Meridian Star


November 7, 2009

Unlocking local government update

For the third consecutive time, the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors met behind closed doors at the end of a regular board meeting. But that's business as usual for these supervisors — doing the public's business out of view of the public. In 16 of 26 meetings between January and August of 2009, the board closed the doors to the public and met in private, according to the minutes of all the board's meetings posted online. Two of those 26 meetings — one of which included a secret session — were held as the Board of Equalization. The other 24 were held as the Board of Supervisors.  Meanwhile, the Meridian City Council seems to have stopped the practice of excessive closed meetings. For the third consecutive time, they refrained from closing the meeting to the public. We applaud them for their efforts in this important area.

The news isn't all good for the city, however, in the openness in government department. And it's not all bad for the county, either.

Last week, The Meridian Star filed two Freedom of Information requests — one with Lauderdale County and one with the City of Meridian. The county provided the requested public information in a matter of minutes. That information will be used for an upcoming story. The requested information included about 1,200 pages and copies of budget information, stacked more than two feet tall. None of the information was redacted and it was easily handed over by County Administrator Mike Sumrall.

Meanwhile, the city has yet to respond to our request. By law, city officials have 14 business days to respond. Below is the full text of the Freedom of Information letter than was hand delivered to city officials on Tuesday:

Dear Ed Skipper, Mark McDonald, Cheri Barry and Bobby Smith:

Pursuant to the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983, Miss. Code Ann. § 25-61-1 et seq. (Supp. 1996), I request the right to inspect and copy the gross salaries for all city employees. If such a list does not exist, we request the most recent payroll for all city employees, including gross pay. This request includes every position on the city’s payroll, including temporary ones and those within the city administration. I request that any copied material be provided to me in the following format: an electronic PDF or plain text file, or printed copies.

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