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Saturday, July 18, 2015

New Law May Improve Government Transparency

Fairhope, Alabama.

NO MORE SECRET MEETINGS?

Fairhope city council
In almost any state but Alabama the headline "Secret Meetings Again Illegal" would have been almost-laughable; but recent updates to the state's open meeting laws (aka 'Sunshine') could have a big positive impact in Fairhope as well where "lack of transparency" has often been a major concern of citizens.

According Shelly Haskins, director of opinion for Al.com,  a 2012 Supreme Court ruling made it possible for government bodies to hold meetings in private "until a decision was made -- only to be ratified in public later with little or no discussion."

The update restricts such meetings and also grants any citizen the right to sue for suspected violations of the Open Meetings Act; with new penalties up to $1,000 per violation. County district attorneys and the state attorney general may also prosecute.

Hopefully, open meeting laws will now be taken more seriously: "Thankfully the Legislature came through and protected the public's right to have its business conducted in public."

Al.com report
According to Alabama's Secretary of State:

"This law guarantees that Alabama's citizens have open access to agencies, boards, commissions, and other governmental bodies which conduct the people's business."  click here


MANY PROBLEMS NOTICED HERE TOO

Various Times' reporters noticed what seemed to be a dramatic increase in such activity here about 8 months ago -- not just by the city council but the planning commission and most city committees/sub-committees as well.

When we asked city officials about it, we were told it was "no big deal" and it has "always been done that way here";  a reporter was even threatened verbally by one council member and subjected to intimidation by committee members and at least one police officer.

One trick that has frequently been used is what the Times' calls the "post-meetings" where council or committee members (and sometimes city employees) mill about acting like the meeting is over, only to go back to discussions after the media and public has left (which most are anxious to do anyway); a practice that could rise beyond a mere misdemeanor in certain cases.

City employees whose jobs may be at stake are put in a particularly bad spot we are told, when forced to participate in such things.

A separate state ethics law requires anyone witnessing a violation to report it to appropriate agencies.

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3 comments:

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Why did you delete my comment? I wasn't being sarcastic. I really do appreciate how you keep us updated on all that happens. Sorry if I offended you, it was meant as a compliment.

Publisher said...

We appreciate your support; the conspiracy theorists believe we write our own anonymous comments here: we do not.