Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Oh hell no. Chassiniol tries to weaken Open Meetings Act.

Some politicians just can't leave well enough alone.  State Senator Lydia Chassiniol (R-KGB) wants to limit the scope of the Open Meetings Act.  Bryan Stole reported in the Greenwood Commonwealth:

Two bills introduced by state Sen. Lydia Chassaniol would redefine a public meeting, making it easier for government bodies to conduct business in private.

Senate Bills 2352 and 2489, introduced by the Winona Republican, would limit the provisions of the Open Meetings Act to government meetings where a quorum is present.

Government transparency advocates say the proposed changes would undermine important provisions of the act and make it easier for government bodies to avoid public scrutiny.

“You are either opposed to open and honest government, or you’re in favor of it,” said Will Bardwell, a Jackson attorney and president of the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information. “It certainly appears that Sen. Chassaniol has come down on the side opposing open and honest government.”

Chassaniol did not return several phone messages and an email Tuesday seeking comment.

Both bills would redefine a “meeting” under the Open Meetings Act to apply only to those meetings at which at least a quorum of board members is present.

Senate Bill 2489 is even more explicit, specifying that a meeting “does not include serial assemblages of less than a quorum of members.”

The altered language, Bardwell said, would allow boards to hold a series of small meetings where all members of the board are included but during which a quorum is never present at any one time.

Tom Hood, the executive director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission, the body charged with enforcing the Open Meetings Act, said the Ethics Commission and the state’s courts have repeatedly deemed such practices, called a “rolling quorum,” as illegal under the state’s sunshine laws.

Chassaniol’s bills, Hood said, would make it far easier for boards to hold critical discussions or debate public policy without giving members of the public and the press a chance to be present.

Charlie Mitchell, a syndicated columnist and professor of journalism at the University of Mississippi, said the law is clearly targeted at the Ethics Commission’s last three rulings which faulted the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, the mayor and board of aldermen of Yazoo City, and the Columbus City Council for splitting meetings into groups of less than a quorum to avoid letting the public in.

“The timing of it indicates it is clearly a response to the Ethic Commission’s rulings,” Mitchell said. “The commission says that that’s not what the law means, so the senator apparently wants to change the law.”

Hood said chance encounters and discussions between public officials is permissible under the Open Meetings Act, but that intentionally setting up small meetings to avoid a quorum — as Chassaniol’s bills would allow — could exclude the public from key discussions.

“The effect of that is that when you get to the formal public meeting, there’s not public debate or discussion because the matter has already been decided in private,” Hood said.

Bardwell said that he couldn’t imagine another purpose of Chassaniol’s bills other than to gut what he called a key provision of the Open Meetings Act.

“The whole purpose of the Open Meetings Act is to make sure that the deliberations of public bodies take place publicly. That goal would be squarely undercut by Sen. Chassaniol’s bill,” Bardwell said. “All deliberations regarding public policy are supposed to take place publicly. I don’t know why Sen. Chassaniol thinks that’s such a bad thing. It’s an election year, and Sen. Chassaniol owes it to her constituents to explain her stance.”


Anonymous said...

Typical Republican talking about of both sides of their mouth.

John Pittman Hey said...

Yeah, I noticed this abomination Monday afternoon while I was working on election reform code changes down in Jackson. Emailed it to the Commonwealth as soon as I saw it. I guess they snapped it up.

Anonymous said...

Mississippi #1 in corruption. FBI on the scene at SRHS. Good old boys puckering up at the thought of perp walks.

Anonymous said...

Who is Drinkin', Drivin', Do-You-Know-Who-I-Am? Johnny Horhn carrying this water for? Seem to remember many Democrats having big time problems with this sort of sales tax incentivization.

Burke said...

May the bird of paradise fly up her nose.

RIP, Little Jimmy

Anonymous said...

That is so outrageous. What are they trying to cover up?

Anonymous said...

One would think she'd want to talk about the bill she introduced. This makes no sense. She must be getting blackmailed or something.

Anonymous said...

Some interesting campaign contributors.

Milteer said...

She didn't even know what the law requires before she introduced the bill. Hilarious.

Anonymous said...

She didn't even know what the law requires before she introduced the bill. Hilarious.

If this is true then it's another Homer Simpson egzullense in goobermint moment!

Can I get a DOH?

Anonymous said...

What district does she represent? We need to find someone to run for her seat.

Anonymous said...

When one party holds the majority too long, they find they don't like the rules that limit their ability to do anything and everything that will help them retain power and/or fill their pockets.

It hasn't matter which party it is. You always need enough in the other party to make these attempts not slip under the radar so as not to be noticed.

If a party believes you'll vote for the party over the person, the games are on!

John Pittman Hey said...

Chassaniol represents all of Carroll County and the white portions of Leflore County, plus half of Grenada and a slice of Attala. ca 61% white VAP

lee woo said...

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. See the link below for more info.


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Note: Security provided by INS