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Closed Door Sessions At Alderman Meetings Warrant Attention

Closed Door Discussions At Aldermen Meetings Warrant Attention

    There has been a disturbing pattern at meetings of Water Valley’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen.

    Although difficult to prove, the usual protocol for our city aldermen has become to discuss contentious issues behind closed doors.

    For months the Herald readers have expressed concern for the way our city leaders spend excessive time in executive session.

    The scenario was replayed Monday night after aldermen spent almost an hour behind closed doors near the conclusion of their meeting. Executive session was even spelled out ahead of time on the meeting’s agenda. A personnel issue and litigation were cited as reasons.

    Discussion of personnel issues and litigation are allowed behind closed doors according to our state’s laws. However our state’s Supreme Court has ruled that city officials must provide specific instances that warrant the vote to close the meeting to the public.

    This was defined after a 1989 landmark case in which Hinds County Supervisors had suggested that “personnel matters” could include “a large area of subject matter” such as an increase of life insurance.

    Not so, said the Mississippi Supreme Court, ruling that a “personnel matter” must relate to an employee “holding a specific position” in the landmark Mississippi case, Hinds County Board of Supervisors versus Common Cause.

    This brings us back to Monday night’s aldermen meeting in which personnel was one of two reasons cited for the executive session.

    After almost an hour behind closed doors, aldermen reopened the meeting, allowing the public and press back in.

    Aldermen then proceeded with little or no discussion to arrive at three decisions. An appointment was made to the county’s economic development district board (and board appointments are not considered personnel matters). A private company was hired to cut the grass in the cemeteries. The third decision was made to contract with a private company to dig the graves at the cemeteries.

    The fact that these three snap decisions were made after aldermen had met privately for an hour strongly suggests that they had been discussed during the executive session.

    Remember, this was the same executive session for which no specific personnel matter was cited for the reason for closing the doors.

    It has become a disturbing pattern.

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