Keeping Polk County in the dark

Published 7:30 pm Thursday, March 27, 2014

“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” Jesus. John 3:19-20, KJV.
When I read Commissioner Owens’ letter in the Tryon Daily Bulletin, taking issue with Ray Gasperson’s explanation about being thrown out of a Commissioner’s closed session because the majority did not want Ray to hear what they wanted to say in their secret meeting, I was shocked. What an affront to truth and to open and accountable government.
Commissioner Owens: If you “completely disagree with commissioner Gasperson’s recollection of what occurred…”, say how, what and why. Don’t just make a general statement that you don’t agree.
Your reasoning for not being able to tell the public makes no sense. The public trust does not prevent you from taking issue with Ray’s specific statements; it requires you state your differences.
It’s like you’re playing hide and seek with the public; it’s juvenile.
There’s no doubt the majority has frequently abused the closed session exceptions to the open meetings law. One example is your recent use of a closed session to discuss creating a new job and job description for Polk County: assistant county manager. Those are topics that should be discussed only in open meetings. The public has the right to know your thinking on these topics before they’re a “done deal”.
Why should you “fear” that your closed session discussions would be disclosed, as stated in your letter? What’s to be afraid of? That the public will learn how you conduct the county’s business? You should be having the “free exchange of ideas” in open, public meetings, not in secret sessions.
Contrary to Commissioner Owens’ closing statement, any commissioner always has the liberty to disclose items discussed in closed session unless those are the few prohibited from public discussion: e.g., items that concern a particular employee, trade secrets or a few items about economic development.
For ALL other matters that are allowed in closed meetings, using secret sessions to discuss them is optional for commissioners. It’s up to the commissioners themselves, totally within their discretion, whether to conduct such business in open session or in secret. That includes attorney-client communications.
Any commissioner does “have the liberty” to discuss any optional item outside the meeting. Surely Commissioners Owens, Pack and Holbert recall when Larry Poe had differences with various matters his board’s majority discussed in closed session. Commissioner Poe believed, rightly, that the public had a right to know what was going on. Commissioner Poe would come out of closed sessions and bravely tell the public about the discussions that had just been held in secret.
The other commissioners yelled and pouted about it then, just as you are now. But Commissioner Poe acted legally, just as Commissioner Gasperson has acted rightly and legally now. Didn’t you read Professor Bluestein’s articles about closed sessions? Bluestein, an expert on the open meetings law from the NC School of Government, supports everything that Commissioner Gasperson has done. Her expert and unbiased analysis is directly opposed to the majority’s position.
The majority wants to do all you can in secret, including discussions that are illegal in secret. What you’re doing is an affront to the public trust. I’m so sorry that the county attorney has been allowing this to happen, and even enabling inappropriate behavior.
What Commissioner Gasperson is doing is courageous and for the betterment of Polk County. He’s the one who is in the right here.

– Renée McDermott, Tryon

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