Sunshine laws preserve our rights

FROM STAFF REPORTS

During a recent Pelham City Council meeting, Councilman Steve Powell made a statement that warrants a second look.

While speaking about the council’s failure to come to a consensus over who should be appointed to fill a vacant council seat, Powell said “I fully believe there would have been a chance for us to come to a consensus if we were allowed to go to a restaurant, order some food and sit in a back room and have some healthy dialogue.”

“But that’s prohibited by law. We can all walk away knowing that we are transparent,” Powell added.

We are pleased to see that Powell recognizes the importance of the people’s right to hear and be involved in government decisions.

Powell was making reference to the Alabama Open Meetings Act, which requires government entities to properly advertise each of their meetings and open the meetings to the public.

Only in very limited circumstances are government entities allowed to go into private executive sessions.

Thankfully, the Pelham City Council did not choose to ignore the Open Meetings Act and hold a private meeting in the back room of a restaurant. In our experiences, that’s not how the Pelham council conducts its business.

While it may not seem incredibly detrimental to allow a few council members to meet over dinner, doing so would open the door for any governmental entity to blatantly disregard one of the public’s most valuable laws.

March 11-17 will mark national Sunshine Week, which celebrates open meetings laws and the public’s right to know what is going on in their local governments. By requiring government bodies to keep their meetings open to all, it allows the people they represent to hold elected officials accountable for their actions.

In a larger sense, open meetings help ensure the foundation of democracy. The citizens of Alabama have the right to witness and participate as their government works on their behalf.