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Auditor’s training was a real eye-opener

By Staff | Nov 6, 2015

As a member of several boards, and as a newspaper reporter, I found it extremely valuable to attend the training provided by the West Virginia State Auditor’s office last week on everything from Robert’s Rules of Order to ethics and tax questions. I believe everyone who volunteers should attend one of these sessions.

I believe that those who are hired and/or elected are required to attend this training. And if that is the case, some of our elected officials need to go back for a refresher!

I speak specifically to information gleaned about the use (or as the presenter said ‘over use’) of “Executive Sessions.” These sessions occur when an elected body who is responsible to the public, wishes to meet in private to discuss things they don’t want the public to hear.

There are some instances when privacy is essential such as when discussing land deals that have not been negotiated on and finalized. One would not want to give away the information on available funds for purchase prices and the like.

Board and commissions also often meet with their attorney(s) to discuss litigation. This is where the allowable meetings sometimes get a little confusing. What I learned is that if a body (board,commission, etc.) is involved in a specific legal case, they may of course meet with their attorney in private to protect attorney/client privilege.

However, the group may not just randomly assign “possible litigation” as a cause for executive session. Similarly, the group may not label their reason as “personnel.” Specific personnel and reasons must be spelled out to the public before a body can legally shut them out.

Having covered local boards and commissions in Jefferson County for many, many years, I can say that there have been and continue to be multiple questionable uses of the sessions. County commission members and school board members are notorious for calling “executive session” and kicking the public out of the room.

Results of a legal question of illegal use of executive session or the illegal meeting of members of boards and commissions without due notice for public attendance could cause havoc in the area the boards oversee. Should it be proven that a board or commission shut out the public on purpose and decisions were made based on those meetings without public witness, things could be overturned that could potentially start a domino tumble of actions. This could cost huge amounts of tax payer money as well as hold up processes in a legal fashion.

I would encourage all those who may be in the role of potentially using “executive session” or meeting outside of a noticed meeting time and place to reconsider their actions. Make sure the law is on your side before risking potential catastrophe. It’s much more important to be within the law than try to hide things from the public because you don’t want to be held accountable.