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Don’t Shut Public Out of Meetings

More than a year after the pandemic changed how everything in our lives operates — including government — it continues to concern us that some local governments fail to adequately host meetings accessible to the public.

Two recent examples come to mind.

First was a meeting of St. Clairsville City Council from earlier this month. The council there has been hosting meetings via conference call, with no public participation other than to listen in. Not only was the public shut out from having a voice in those meetings, but council members voted, on at least one occasions we’re aware of, secretly by email on a personnel issue. That’s unacceptable and violates open meetings laws.

The public, being shut out at the meeting, had no chance to object to the secret vote. Fixing the vote later, as St. Clairsville did, does nothing to alleviate the erosion of trust in government such actions hold.

The second example is from the Ohio County Development Authority. The meetings for that body over the past five months have taken on an extra level of public interest given the contract dispute with former administrator Greg Stewart and the future of The Highlands. But one problem remains: The meetings are held via conference call, and it is all-but-impossible to not only hear who is speaking, but also to identify who is speaking. Members at this week’s meeting did a better job of identifying themselves before talking, but audio issues continue to be a problem. A year after meetings stopped being in-person is more than enough for issues such as this to be solved.

There’s frankly no excuse for public bodies, if they choose not to meet in person, to continue having such issues. The technology has been there to make meetings more accessible; it’s simply been a refusal on the part of some elected officials to use it. Shutting the public out of the public’s business is not how things should be done.

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