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Government transparency benefits all

This editorial originally published in 2015, but it appears city officials need another reminder of what state law allows when it comes to public meetings. We are hoping the voting public cares enough about government transparency to demand that public officials follow the letter of the law. Our repeated requests apparently are not enough.

The Brookhaven Board of Aldermen continues to enter executive session under the stated reason of “contract negotiations.”

But “contract negotiations” isn’t one of the listed exemptions that allows public boards to enter into executive session, according to the state’s Open Meetings Act.

There are several exceptions to the act that allow meetings to be closed to the public. They are:

• Transaction of business and discussion of personnel matters relating to the job performance, character, professional competence or physical or mental health of a person holding a specific position.

  Strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to prospective litigation, litigation or issuance of an appealable order when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the public body.

• Transaction of business and discussion regarding the report, development or course of action regarding security personnel, plans or devices.

  Investigative proceedings by any public body regarding allegations of misconduct or violation of law.

• Any body of the Legislature which is meeting on matters within the jurisdiction of such body.

• Cases of extraordinary emergency which would pose immediate or irrevocable harm or damage to persons and/or property within the jurisdiction of such public body.

• Transaction of business and discussion regarding the prospective purchase, sale or leasing of lands.

• Discussions between a school board and individual students who attend a school within the jurisdiction of such school board or the parents or teachers of such students regarding problems of such students or their parents or teachers.

• Transaction of business and discussion concerning the preparation of tests for admission to practice in recognized professions.

• Transaction of business and discussions or negotiations regarding the location, relocation or expansion of a business or an industry.

• Transaction of business and discussions regarding employment or job performance of a person in a specific position or termination of an employee holding a specific position.

• Discussions regarding material or data exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act.

• Transaction of business and discussion regarding prospective strategic business decisions of public hospitals, including without limitation, decisions to open a new service line, implement capital improvements, or file applications for certificates of need or determinations of non-reviewability with the State Department of Health.

• Transaction of business of the boards of trustees of public hospitals that would require discussion of any identifiable patient information, including without limitation, patient complaints, patients’ accounts, patients receiving charity care, or treatment that could be identified to a patient.

“Contract negotiations” could fall under the exemption that specifies “discussions or negotiations regarding the location, relocation or expansion of a business or an industry.” But if so, the board should state that clearly before entering executive session. According to the Mississippi Press Association’s attorney, simply stating “contract negotiations” isn’t sufficient.

If the city board has a more specific reason that’s allowed by state law, then it should state that reason before kicking the public out of a meeting.

We encourage the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen, and all local governing bodies, to be as transparent and open as possible. We all benefit from an informed, educated public that knows what local governing bodies are doing.