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EDITORIAL: Here we go again — another BOE closed meeting

The broken record continues to turn in Clayton County.

The Clayton County Board of Education is spending an inordinate amount of time behind closed doors.

Executive sessions by elected officials should be the exception — not the rule.

Once again, the board of education spent an hour concealing the people’s business this week.

There is little doubt the board chair, each board member and the school system’s attorney will say they did nothing wrong.

However, whether this standing operating procedure is right or wrong should be a question put to citizens, not to the board itself.

We are not alleging a violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

To determine whether they are violating the act, one of them would most likely have to squeal and come clean with any discussions that might have taken place that are not exempted from the open meetings requirement.

Or someone would have to slip up in open session, during an interview with the media or in a casual conversation and unknowingly acknowledge that inappropriate discussions took place.

Ostensibly, the executive sesssion this week was to discuss personnel, litigation and property acquisition.

It seems that among the things discussed behind closed doors was a pay out to former superintendent Edmond Heatley for one-third of the bonus he was owed from last school year totaling $8,333.34. There was virtually no public discussion or justification for such a massive expenditure. Does the BOE not think the public has a right to hear the debate?

That is just one example.

Entirely too much public business is taking place in private.

Even if we suppose there are no explicit violations of the Open Meetings Act, it still does not mean that hiding the public’s business behind closed doors is good governance.

While in closed sessions elected officials can only deliberate among themselves. They cannot hear reports from third parties or receive evidence for personnel disciplinary purposes. They cannot discuss general policies and transact any business that is not a part of the stated reason for why the meeting was closed.

There is little doubt that elected officials lean toward closed sessions, look for loopholes that allow for closed sessions and operate on the very fringes of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Something happens when people get elected to office, it seems.

Perhaps all of a sudden, the moment they are elected, they think they are privileged to be part of an elite club of the ruling class and privy to private information that the rest of us cannot handle.

Other counties are able to do the business of the school system without excessive use of the executive session privilege.

What makes Clayton County so different?

Some states are so restrictive that executive sessions are almost never held by local boards of education.

So, why do our elected officials believe they are so absolutely necessary in Clayton County?

In life, and in government, people generally hide when they are ashamed of what they are doing, don’t want others to know what they are doing or just don’t know what they are doing.

We are encouraging the board of education to stop asking legal counsel if they legally “can” go into executive session and instead start asking themselves, “Should we go into executive session?”

Ask yourselves, “Should the BOE be hiding the people’s business?”

— Editor Jim Zachary