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Tell City-Troy Township School Board member Dr. Gene Ress expressed conflicting and misguided messages when he addressed a small crowd at a school-board meeting Tuesday.
The gist of his message: Fellow board member Sherri Flynn did nothing illegal when she talked in an open meeting about the board’s hiring of new Schools Superintendent Lynn Blinzinger, but board members shouldn’t share with the public anything that occurs in executive sessions.
Flynn objected, as The News reported Feb. 10, to the board’s failure to conduct a legitimate search for candidates.
Ress’ messages at the latest board meeting were that “there is no law, there is no statute, there is no policy that I know of that says it is illegal to divulge the occurrences at such a meeting,” but he “was pleased ... that none of the rest of those attending responded as to what was said.”
In other words, while board members have the right to talk about what occurs in the secret meetings, he feels they should not.
Executive sessions – meetings closed to the public – can be scheduled by governing bodies for several very legitimate reasons. If the entity is considering a real-estate purchase, for example, and is willing to spend a certain amount, it would not be in the taxpayers’ interest to broadcast that maximum. Equally unwise would be announcements of some security measures or the strategies proposed to fight litigation that has been threatened or initiated.
The purpose of the state’s Open Door Law under which executive sessions are authorized is to define those areas in which the public has a right to know how a governing body is conducting its business. The under-girding philosophy is that those who pay taxes have a right to know what their money is buying.
We understand and support the reasons certain actions identified in the law can be accomplished behind closed doors. We, too, pay taxes and hope if our city, county or school district needs to purchase land, that they do what it takes within legal constraints to get the best buy.
Beyond the discussions specifically protected under the law, we would advocate that any and all discussions that occur in any meeting be considered available to the public. A philosophy of “what happens in executive sessions stays in executive sessions,” is beneficial to the taxpayer and supported by the law only in certain specific instances. Our school-board members remain accountable to the public they serve even when the law authorizes them to go behind closed doors.
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