Interviews best in front of public eye

Published 12:05 am Friday, August 8, 2014

The Adams County Board of Supervisors’ desire to interview candidates for the city-county school board in executive session — meaning away from the eyes and ears of the public the board serves — is simply a bad idea.

Adams County supervisors went into executive session Monday to interview four prospective appointees to the Natchez-Adams School District Board of Trustees.

It’s surprising that public officials — elected and appointed — haven’t embraced the idea that conducting business in the full view of citizens is the best practice for all concerned.

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Board attorney Scott Slover said Monday’s executive session was justified under the personnel exemption of the state’s Open Meetings Law because school board members are given a stipend, meaning they are paid for their work, and are thus hired for the job by the board.

Slover has since retracted his statement after speaking with the state ethics commission, saying Thursday he was mistaken and gave the board poor advice. We appreciate that he admitted his mistake, but the damage is done; the public was left out of the interview process.

No question any supervisor asks of a potential appointee, and no question the appointee asks about the board under consideration, should be outside the realm of what is appropriate to ask publicly.

Doing the people’s work behind closed doors simply breeds mistrust and contempt where such is not needed.

Adams County Board of Supervisors Vice President Mike Lazarus said he prefers to conduct interviews in closed session. He said, “People are more free to say what they want to say without a bunch of people standing behind them.”

Those people standing behind are citizens and taxpayers and have every right to know more about potential appointees and their opinions on issues facing the school board.

Instead of seeking to find a way to create an exception for hiding from the public, supervisors would be wise to do just the opposite — consistently fight to keep the public at the table on all matters of government — including who is appointed to the school board. Supervisors work for the citizens, not the other way around.