Public business must stay public

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 27, 2002

Let’s make it clear from the start we don’t dispute Clarissa E. McAdoo deserves the 4.5 percent raise awarded to her Tuesday by the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s board. As Luefras Robinson pointed out in the Focus feature this past Sunday, the executive director has done much for the agency and the residents it serves.

No, our criticism is directed exclusively at the board that met behind closed doors for more than two hours. According to the legal authorities that reporters Robinson and Allison Williams consulted, such a secret vote may well have violated state code. The Virginia Freedom of Information Act requires all action by public bodies to be disclosed publicly during the meeting.

Even if a loophole exists – as some have said – that legality still doesn’t make the board’s action correct.

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What’s the group’s justification for the closed session?

&uot;That’s the way we’ve always done it.&uot;

When we read that quote by SRHA Board Chairman Mary V. Richardson in Robinson and Williams’ story we weren’t too surprised by such logic.

That’s closely akin to the reasoning by almost any public body – such as Suffolk City Council or the Suffolk School Board. The members often seem to think it best for all concerned (namely themselves) to meet in secret before revealing what the public should know about from the start.

Granted, there might be some personnel issues that warrant privacy, but using that too often becomes a pathetic excuse to conduct government business.

Don’t think that you the public are getting off easy in this matter. One of the major reasons that local, state, national, and global governments get away with secrecy is your apathy.

People who bemoan government (and press!) yet do nothing are as damnable as those they curse.

Government secrecy runs contrary to everything for which this nation stands. The public business must be conducted in full view of the public.

To do otherwise shows arrogance, or ignorance, or both. Public officials need to be held accountable by the citizenry. Those who refuse to hold them accountable deserve the government they get.