Sometimes with local governments and their elected officials – and the need to hold them to the state’s requirements for open government – we sometimes feel like we’re playing an ongoing game of “whack-a-mole,” batting down one violation in one jurisdiction only to see an equally obnoxious violation pop up from somewhere else.
We have to give a “reward” – though perhaps a dubious distinction – for some kind for creativity to the town of Elon, which apparently allowed its staff to establish a town committee. (Usually committees are established by the elected officials of a town or city, not its bureaucrats.)
They even ostensibly recruited two members of the town council (supposedly their bosses), as well as someone from Elon University, to join several of them to interview consultants who were contending for a contract to do an update of the town’s so-called “Downtown Master Plan.”
So how many members of the public were told about the committee’s formulation or its meetings? None.
To mix metaphors: the inmates are surely running the asylum.
But, not to stop with a crazy “organizational structure” – if one can even call it that – they decided they could all “get together” to interview the consultants without providing any notice whatsoever to the public at large. No notice that there even was such a committee, much less that they had a plan to meet for three, one-and-a-half hour meetings where this little self-appointed group interviewed the firms wanting tens of thousands of dollars in Elon town tax dollars.
Groups, committees, or otherwise comprised entirely of staff are exempt from being considered a “public body” under the state’s Open Meetings Law.
But the inclusion of two council members (Quinn Ray and Mark Greene) and a member of the staff of Elon University (VP Jeff Stein) to participate with three or four town employees clearly transformed this little group into a “public body” subject to the terms of the North Carolina Open Meetings Law – and all the more so because of its task to make a recommendation to the full town council on which organization to hire.
Having brought this matter to the mayor’s and town manager’s attention, the manager, Richard Roedner, has assured The Alamance News that he will assemble and provide any notes from the meeting participants, which are public records under the North Carolina Public Records Law.
It’s a poor substitute for actual public notification and conducting their meetings openly, but we guess it’s the best we can expect after the fact.
This will supposedly be provided before the $73,000 contract is to be considered at the town council’s next meeting on August 9.
We recognize that Elon’s town board has often taken a rather casual, somewhat informal, approach to some aspects of its governance, but it seems to us that when it comes to openness and transparency, the town and the town council need to be more attuned to the requirements of state law.