Our Opinion: Sunshine matters
The Times Observer does not take the Sunshine Act lightly.
We believe Warren County Commissioners Jeff Eggleston and Ben Kafferlin do.
Quite simply, Sunshine laws are regulations requiring openness in government. They make sure the public is aware and can participate in meetings and have a say in actions taken by publicly-paid officials.
Officials that were elected by and work for you.
The Times Observer contends and has contended in the past that this group of Warren County commissioners violated the Sunshine Act in conducting “business.”
More recently, the Times Observer believes the commissioners violated the Sunshine Act when they fired — on a 2-1 vote — the county fiscal director in an executive session.
Commissioners Eggleston and Kafferlin have cited case law, in their defense, claiming that it “back(s) up the decision to declare termination an act that can be done outside of public view,” according to Eggleston.
The Times Observer could not disagree more, verifying with a media law attorney and additional legal counsel, as well as consulting the Sunshine Act itself:
Section 708 (a) outlines six reasons why public officials can hold executive sessions, including “to discuss any matter involving the employment, appointment, termination of employment, terms and conditions of employment, evaluation of performance, promotion or disciplining of any specific prospective public officer or employee or current public officer or employee employed or appointed by the agency…”
From Section 708 (C): “Official action on discussions held pursuant to subsection (a) shall be taken at an open meeting.”
Any action shall be taken in open meeting — that means a motion must be made in public meeting to terminate any public employee. We, the public, are afforded the opportunity to speak before the vote.
We stand by that, legally.
But, and this is for you, the public: In good faith, why should you not be given the opportunity to respond to ACTIONS of public officials.
In plain sight.
What the commissioners seem to be confusing is that the public does not need to know why — the reason for the firing — and that seems to be where the hang-up is here.
The motion must be made to terminate the employee, no other information, then time for public comment, and then finally a vote.
Why is this such a problem?
Why not be transparent?
The reason behind the firing is not our concern as of now. Again, our concern is that the public is provided time to comment and the final vote is made in public.
That comment period and vote removes any issues of transparency.
And it’s the law.
The Times Observer urges voters to consider this lack of transparency at the polls.
We take the Sunshine Act seriously.