It can be done

Candidate interviews in public? Yes, it can be done!

With the unexpected death of their chairman in September, the Pittsylvania Board of Supervisors was faced with the task of appointing a successor to fill out the remainder of the chair's term.

Time and time again, VCOG has seen local boards in similar circumstances -- having to appoint a replacement for whatever reason -- retreat behind closed doors to interview candidates. I've always found this odd. Whomever is appointed will have the same voting powers as the elected officials and will be serving the citizens of a particular district, so those citizens should hear what the applicants have to say just as they would if they were running as candidates an election. Why then would members of that board interview candidates in private and then spring the decision on those constituents?

The answer, of course, is politics, and for some, politics and transparency don't mix.

That's why it was refreshing to read this bit of news in the Danville Register & Bee this morning: 

The Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors appointed a replacement for the late Marshall Ecker during a meeting Thursday morning.

With a 4-1 vote, supervisors selected Elton W. Blackstock, 51, to serve ... in the board’s Staunton River District seat until a special election is held in November 2014.

However, before supervisors could get started, members disagreed over whether to hold an open meeting. It was originally supposed to take place in a closed-door session, but Westover Supervisor Coy Harville and Chatham-Blairs Supervisor Brenda Bowman objected and said it should be open to the public.

“My biggest concern is the transparency,” Bowman said.

The five candidates were scheduled to interview in staggered 30-minute time slots from 8:30 to 11 a.m., and supervisors discussed whether to postpone the interviews. Harville said he wanted to hold them as scheduled.

“I didn’t come here to waste my time,” Harville said.

Supervisors decided to scrap the staggered sessions, have Interim County Administrator Otis Hawker call the candidates and tell them to come at 9:45 a.m., and interview them one-by-one during an open meeting.

The supervisors could have gone into closed session to discuss the candidate interviews, but they did not. Instead, one made a motion to appoint someone, the motion was seconded. They took a vote and the person was appointed. The vote was not unanimous. But that's OK!! (Pet peeve #2: why do so many boards think every decision has to be unanimous?) The process worked.

So, congratulations to Pittsylvania County for doing this thing the right way. I hope other localities will take note.

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