Preston commission improperly closes session

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — We were on the same page with the Preston County Commission, too.

That is on the need to beef up law enforcement in Bruceton Mills … until it went into executive session.

Let’s be clear. No one here has an issue with the proposal, per se, that emerged from Monday’s executive session.

Namely, the Preston County Sheriff ’s Department and the State Police’s plans to open a satellite office in Bruceton Mills in the near future.

That proposal also calls for enhancing communications with a local elementary/middle school there whenever a violent crime occurs.

It was also reported that banks in that community are upgrading their security camera systems and the county is exploring the costs of a mobile license plate reader.

We applaud the commission and the other stakeholders for their response to the recent rash of bank robberies in northern Preston County.

However, reaching this agreement behind closed doors taints a great idea and raises unnecessary suspicions. Not to mention the open meetings law forbids conducting county business in secret.

If public funds are going to pay for this satellite office and new crime-fighting technology the public needs to know how this agreement was reached.

Then there’s the fact that 17 people, such as local bank officials, school administrators, the county prosecutor and law enforcement being privy to this session, but the public was not. That’s wrong-headed for a lot of reasons.

One is the lack of specificity cited for this meeting: “Legal issues and sensitive subjects.” Huh?

Even the prosecutor was at a loss as to what section of the open meetings law applied to this meeting.

We also question the whole idea of keeping anything secret among 17 people. But these proceedings should have never been secret in the first place.

Fighting crime, after all, requires the public to get involved, something that’s lacking in many communities.

How can the Preston commission expect that level of involvement when it not only shuts the public out of the process, but the discussion?

We call on the Preston County Commission to explain why this special session turned into an executive session.

Furthermore, explain to the public what this initiative will cost and who’s paying for it.

Also explain if there was an agreement to go into executive session beforehand and why the commission thinks it can refute state code.

No one is disputing the need for a serious response to serious crimes in the Bruceton Mills area.

But someone should throw the book — on open meetings laws — at the Preston County Commission.

Click here for The Dominion Post e-edition. 

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