Lawyer gets it right — executive sessions are a choice

Finally, an attorney representing local government gets it right.

Attorney Kirby Glaze told the Clayton County Housing Authority last week that going into executive session, even on personnel matters, is a choice, not a requirement.

When the Housing Authority board of directors met to deliberate the hiring of an interim director, they spent much of the meeting going in and out of closed-door sessions.

When the attorney told the Housing Authority it could legally discuss the hiring decision in the open public meeting, members of the board said they were not comfortable discussing it during the open session.

That means that local leaders were not comfortable discussing the public’s business in public.

That is poor public service.

In fact, that is not public service at all, it is more self-serving.

“You can discuss it in open session,” Glaze said to board members. “Executive session is just a privilege you have at your disposal.”

He was clear.

And, he was right.

The board discussed creating the interim director’s position in a closed-door executive session. Then, they vetted two candidates in an open meeting. Then, they weighed the two candidates in a closed meeting. So, it is obvious local leaders simply pick and choose what they will and will not discuss before the public.

One commissioner, Tonya Clarke, was participating in the meeting by phone and Glaze told other members that she could not participate in the executive session because there was no way to make sure someone wasn’t listening in on the deliberations via her phone line.

Once again, he got it right.

When the board opted to conduct the discussions in executive session they prevented a fellow member from participating in the deliberations.

Attorney David Hudson, one of the state’s leading authorities on the Georgia Open Meeting Act, has consistently said there is no provision in state law that requires local officials to go into executive session.

Local government in Clayton County has an abysmal track record when it comes to hiding the public’s business.

Executive sessions are on almost every agenda with county and city officials going behind closed doors almost every time they meet.

Ladies and gentlemen, what do you have to hide?

All county and city attorneys need to give their clients the exact same reminder that Glaze gave his client, viz. executive sessions are a choice, not a requirement.

We are not saying there might not be very limited circumstances when executive sessions are warranted.

We are saying that every time you choose to go into executive session you are making a choice to hide the public’s business from the public.

And, that is a bad choice.

— Editor Jim Zachary