Commission not following the law
Exactly what was feared would happen is happening at the Wood County Commission.
With no advance warning to the public, with no mention on an agenda, with no advance agenda item of intended action, the Wood County Commission Thursday threw the spirit, if not the letter, of the Open Meeting Law to the wind.
The commission spent money without the public having any knowledge any of those receiving money was even under consideration for funding, let alone how much was being spent, where it was coming from, when it was being given, why it was being given or who “invited” the individuals to appear before the commission for potential funding.
The county commission, as was feared would happen when two members strong-armed their way to reducing the number of meetings and weakening the agenda structure for the remaining meetings, is out of hand.
Whether the county commission’s new leadership understands it or not, the commission cannot take action in an improper, secret manner. The commission cannot take action without the proposed action being presented to the public on an agenda. The commission certainly cannot spend public money without the public having prior knowledge so citizens can voice their opinions.
It is time for the county prosecutor as legal counsel for the commission and the state attorney general to step in and explain the facts of government to those on the commission who seemingly believe they can do whatever they wish, whenever the wish, however they wish and the public can learn about it only after the fact.
The public is ill-served by public officials who do not know the law, follow the law or seemingly care about the law.
The Wood County Board of Education is on a very slippery slope in attempting to alter its policy pertaining to what is a quorum for its public meetings.
Several members of the five-member board have proposed amending the policy to allow fewer than three members to be physically at a meeting for establishing a quorum to be able to conduct public business. The change would allow a total of three members at the meeting, including via a telephone connection when at least one person is present for there to be a legal quorum for the meeting to be held.
In essence, it means there could be one board member at the meeting and the other four members on a telephone conference call.
Some of the school board members say the change is necessary because board members often travel outside the area for their jobs.
The members obviously knew their jobs necessitated travel when they ran for the school board, which means if they didn’t intend to attend meetings and fulfill their elected responsibilities they should not have sought office.
It is not in the best public interest for board members to conduct business outside the view of the public, thus not available for public comment, question and discussion.
It also leaves the issue open as to what security would be created to be sure the purported board member on the telephone actually is the board member, let alone if that board member might be under some duress influencing his comments and/or vote while on the telephone.
It also brings up the question if that physically absent board member should be paid for “attending” the meeting when he is teleconferencing his “presence.”
There also is the issue of whether the proposed change in policy falls within state law pertaining to meetings of public bodies. Some would contend it appears the school board is attempting to tiptoe in the cracks by choosing to interpret the law in a way that favors members’ personal agendas and wants.
It seems very logical the state law exists to guarantee public bodies meet in public, facing those who elected them and conducting their business before those who elected them in the public arena. Teleconferencing “attendance” at a meeting to create a quorum certainly would violate the spirit if not the intentions of the law.
Contact Jim Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org