ZACHARY: Hiding state business should be illegal

By Jim Zachary 

State lawmakers should close the executive session loopholes in the Georgia Open Meetings Act and make it even more clear the public's business should always be conducted in public. 

Executive sessions — closed-door meetings — should be limited.

Executive sessions are allowed in certain circumstance but not required.

Some local governments go into executive session frequently. Some rarely do.

Closed-door meetings are always a choice.

The closed meetings are allowed for narrow reasons, but are never required.

Anytime the public’s business can be conducted in public it should be.

Having an executive session at every meeting is just not warranted.

There are city and county governments and even boards of education across the state that rarely go into closed meetings.

Personnel matters, real estate transactions and even lawsuits can all be discussed out in the open.

We do understand sometimes there may be proprietary or personal information that needs to be discussed privately, but those cases should be the exception not the rule.

The executive session exception to the Georgia Open Meetings Act is just that — an exception — not a rule.

All elected officials should be committed to keeping as many discussions open as they possibly can.

There should always, at the very least, be a discussion about whether or not the business can be discussed in open session.

There should not be anything automatic about closed door meetings.

No chairman, attorney or board member should ever think that just because a piece of business is (1) personnel, (2) real estate or (3) litigation that the subject itself automatically triggers an executive session.

Even when allowed, executive sessions are not always necessary.

Jim Zachary is the editor of The Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI's director or newsroom training and development and president-emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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