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An insider’s view on executive sessions

Post by David Seago on Feb. 10, 2008 at 5:24 am with No Comments »
February 10, 2008 5:24 am

Lobbyists for Washington cities, counties and school boards are lobbying hard against a bill that would require taping of executive sessions.

Our editorial and a subsequent blog post in favor of it prompted a response from a veteran school board member in Pierce County.

I probably would not have been in favor of the Exec Session Taping bill had I not spent time in Executive Sessions at the School Board. Frankly the self-inflated, broad definition that boards can use to define the three pillars of executive privilege (legal, contract, personnel) cover just about anything if a body wants to stretch the lexicon.

My impression is that most elected officials find executive session extremely useful in creating an informal discussion period to air (or better put, express) their true feeling toward a issue. True, in-depth discussions occur about subjects that are without a doubt public, but have personnel, legal or contractual spin that allow them to be discussed in private.

Many times I haven’t been able to read a fellow school board member until we’re behind closed doors and their true colors appear, and that’s the disingenuousness of the situation, that an elected official will use executive session to say things that he/she wouldn’t in public. The result is, many decisions are made in private but voted on in public . . .

I think the members on my board would be evenly split as to the idea of taping. I know district supers would hate the idea. Executive sessions are about the only time that supers have to influence the board outside of the public eye. This aspect in particular shouldn’t be overlooked. Supers generally don’t hammer a position the administration has until behind closed doors.

The executive session has outlived its usefulness, or more accurately, it no longer is a pure conduit for its designed purpose. It’s time we follow Oregon, or create another way to maintain the propriety.

Oregon law allows reporters to sit in on executive sessions. What they hear is confidential unless officials act improperly during closed session.

Taking notice
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