Hampton -- Even when a closed meeting’s technically legal,
closure isn’t always good policy or good politics. Hampton’s new
city council obviously agrees. Acting on the recommendation of City Attorney
Paul Burton, it went into secret session to discuss the city’s options
for handling state funding for schools.
But once the members were behind a
closed door, according to two councilmen, the council’s collective decision
was that they didn’t need to be there. As mayor-elect Ross Kearney described
the incident, when Burton’s justification had been discussed, one member
called out to open the door and another literally did so. A Daily Press editorial
said, "Out they came, back into a public session (not very public, in
the sense that work sessions aren’t broadcast and few citizens attend,
but public in that citizens and the press are allowed to be there)."
Charlottesville -- Public hearings are one way to get public comment
when it’s budget-writing time. But there are some other ways that don’t
require citizens to make a trip to city hall. Charlottesville set up an online,
interactive forum on its home page to get citizen comment on its proposed FY05
budget. The forum occurred before a regular city council meeting and was televised
on a cable channel. Comments were sought on whether the city should cover unfunded
state mandates, raise the E-911 tax, raise building permit fees or save money
in other budget areas.
State Bd. of Elections -- State law requires that state boards
and commissions say prior to their meetings if public comment will be allowed.
The SBE takes it a couple of added steps. Not only does it routinely provide
for public comment, but it also includes this excellent policy statement with
each of its agendas: "During the discussion of each topic, there will
be an opportunity for public comment. Anyone wishing to discuss an issue not
on the agenda will be allowed to comment at the end of new business."
Shenandoah County -- When the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors
held its organizational meeting, the new chairman urged that closed sessions
be limited to personnel matters. "The board has been criticized in the
past few years over land deals that were discussed in executive sessions with
county staff members and potential buyers -- which include a concrete company
and an asphalt company. Citizens who spoke in public meetings afterwards were
surprised," the chair reminded the board.
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