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Let the sun shine on public issues

The Natchez Democrat has filed two complaints with the State Ethics Commission against the City of Natchez: one because the city refused to make proposals for the city’s new waste and recycling collection contract available to the public, and another after the city went behind closed doors to review and discuss those proposals.

The public’s interest is not served if the public is kept in the dark about such proceedings.

In fact, state law allows only a few exemptions for a public entity such as the Board of Aldermen to go behind doors to discuss business, most pertain to privacy issues of an employee or potential legal liability.

State law is clear on matters of public records, as well, and gives the public the right to “inspect, copy or obtain a copy of any public record of a public body such as the waste collection proposals at issue.

The public records law offers only the following exemptions: personnel files, medical records, attorney work product/communications, law enforcement investigative reports, trade secrets, etc.

The city’s waste collection proposals and discussion of them do not meet the requirements for the government to conduct those matters in secrecy, and the board’s decisions to conduct those matters in secrecy raise suspicions and concerns in the general public’s mind. The public’s business is generally best handled in the public eye. That’s not only our belief, but also the belief of lawmakers who framed up the state’s open meetings and public records laws.

It saddens us not only to have to file these complaints, but also that our elected public officials do not recognize their role and responsibility to conduct the public’s business in public.

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