Reconsider meetings law

Published 12:01 am Sunday, January 23, 2011

I urge Sen. Briggs Hopson III to reconsider his intentions to amend proposed legislation regarding Mississippi’s open meeting law, “…to give public officials some latitude on violations that occur unknowingly.”

It is hard to believe that any person holding public office, elected or appointed, that requires regular meetings as duties of that office, does not know what the law is regarding operations of those meetings. All public servants should be advised what the law is regarding meetings at the time they take the oath of office.

A conscientious officeholder should make it a point to educate himself or herself prior to actually taking office.

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Every one of these State or local boards, commissions, etc. retain a highly paid attorney to advise in such matters. Every one of them have a secretary or administrative assistant knowledgeable regarding open meetings and public records laws. Ignorance should not be allowed and “latitude” should not be an option. The people of Mississippi deserve better.

I urge you, not only to avoid giving unscrupulous public servants a loophole to continue the status quo, but to fully support every effort to pass legislation that will strengthen and enforce Mississippi’s public meetings and open records laws, including stiff personal penalties for breaking those laws. Costs for providing public records should reflect the actual expense of producing those records.

The proposed legislation can be written to make allowance for closed meetings in the few situations where they are needed. (Louisiana has a short and simple list, easy to understand, and difficult to violate “unknowingly”.)

You and I both know that there is probably not one public officeholder in the State of Mississippi that does not know what the current law is regarding open meetings and public records. Rather than conduct themselves honorably and openly, they use “unknowingly” as a cover for total disregard of the law and the people they are appointed or elected to serve.

They should be ashamed to hold the office and collect public paychecks while claiming ignorance of the law related to that office. I am not aware of any other law that can be violated or broken, or simply disregarded, by claiming ignorance of that law.

Nancy Whitten