Openness in government is necessary for community support

The Louisville Municipal School board and many boards in across the state often forget that they are employees of the public.

With that in mind most of what occurs in a board meeting should be discussed in front of the public.

At the Aug. 13 Louisville Municipal School board meeting it was brought into discussion of whether or not to hire teacher coaches for the district with the goal of hleping students at Eiland Middle School and Louisville High School. While discussing this extremely important subject, the Louisville Municipal School District board of trustees moved the item into executive session. the original discussion and option to do the hiring failed for lack of a second on the motion.

The Winston County Journal representative questioned the board’s move to executive session and was informed by the board’s attorney Jim Keith that it fell under the personnel exemption law. Mr. Keith stated that he did not want to “defame” anyone’s character in a public meeting.

Prior to moving the item into executive session, the board discussed the item in a positive light. The only negative comment about the matter was stated by board member Bobby Moody. He stated that he was concerned with how much the teacher coaches would cost the school district.

If the only concern and only reason for not hiring the vendors was cost, then what was the reason for calling the item into executive session?

As a tax payer I might believe that it is worth $40,000 to hire teacher-coaches for the district. I might also believe that this would be very beneficial for the students as well as the teachers here in the county. However, some pertinent information that was discussed in executive session may have changed my mind if the board had found it prudent to discuss such things in public.

How can the public understand the board’s choices if they are uninformed of the pros and cons of hiring vendors?

How the district’s tax dollars are spent is always a public interest and therefore should be discussed in public.

It is a failure of the board as well as the board’s attorney to follow the law that ensures openness when board members are advised by their attorney to not be open to the public.

The Winston County Journal has filed with the Mississippi Ethics Commission to report the violation of the open meetings law. The Winston County Journal believes that the board attorney and the school board members overstretched the personnel law because this law does not apply to vendors. It is a violation of the Mississippi Supreme Court case Common Cause v. Hinds County Board of Supervisors.

There are necessary exceptions and reasons to go into executive session but misuse and misunderstanding of the purpose for executive sessions can cause people to mistrust not only the board members but also the use of necessary executive sessions.

Good approval, working together

The Louisville Municipal School District Board on August 13 did make a very good decision when approving to pursue a storm safety building for Nanih Waiya Attendance Center.

Working with Winston County EMA director Buddy King, the district has applied for and hopefully will get a 90 percent grant for a storm shelter for the Nanih Waiya Campus.

I personally saw the destruction that occurred to the East Webster Campus in Webster County and luckily that storm hit at night and no one was injured but the storm safety building that FEMA and MEMA are funding on that campus may save lives and will be a great addition to Webster County.

A tornado proned area like Nanih Waiya also needs this school storm safety program considering some tornadoes that have touched down near or in Nanih Waiya. If school district receives the grant and builds the storm shelter, the local citizens will be able to use it as well.

Another win to possibly getting the grant is that like East Webster, the Nanih Waiya school can use the buidling for school purposes as well.

For minimal investment if the grant is received, the Nanih Waiya campus can have not only a storm shelter but a needed new cafeteria.

The storm shleter and application as well as plans for other uses were discussed in the full view of the public which allows an informed public to be supportive of good ideas or against bad ones.

Editor’s Note: Joseph McCain is the editor and publisher of the Winston County Journal. He may be contacted at 662-773-6241 or 662-803-5236.