Transparency is a must

An editorial from The Inter-Mountain

ELKINS, W.Va. —  Navigating the West Virginia Open Meetings Act is not rocket science, yet some local governing bodies seem to have trouble with it.

To be fair, there likely are issues in small communities across the state. Unfortunately, people get used to the status quo, or take their local officials at their word when they say they’re doing things above-board.

Executive sessions are, of course, a major area where government bodies come off as shady.

It is true city councils, county commissions and the like may go into closed session to discuss certain topics, including personnel issues, pending litigation, property purchases or official investigations.

But it’s also true these governing bodies must vote to go into executive session. Moreover, they can only discuss items that appear on the meeting agenda.

Agendas should not state a governing body will go into executive session. In fact, according to the West Virginia Ethic Commission, governing bodies may not decide in advance of a meeting that it will go into closed session.

Agendas can say an executive session is anticipated, but a majority vote must be taken during open session before government officials go behind the curtain.

Here’s a big one: Agenda items, including those to be discussed behind closed doors, must be descriptive enough to put the public on notice of the nature of the matter being discussed. That’s also according to the Ethics Commission.

It is not enough that the agenda item say “personnel” or “pending litigation.” Descriptions should be more specific, such as “vacancy in the fire department” or “Smith vs. Jones.”

It is in the best interest of local government to be as transparent as possible. “Good ol’ boy club” antics are an insult to the public and will only result in further distrust and scrutiny.

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