CHAPEL HILL – The state House is pushing for government groups—like town councils—to record their meetings held in closed session.
Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich says she is in favor of government bodies being more transparent, however, she is worried about the affect it will have on the Board’s possible development negotiations.
“To put that up in front of everyone’s face before we even have a deal going—we might really be sacrificing a deal. We could lose a deal; we could lose that economic development,” Rich said.
Currently—governmental bodies can meet privately for several reasons, such as to discuss economic development negotiations and reports of criminal investigations.
Rich says sometimes it takes a while for negotiations, such as the buying and selling of land, to be sorted out. She’s afraid interested parties might shy away before a deal can be made.
She says the Board of Commissioner’s clerk keeps already keeps track of open and closed-session minutes— and keeps at least one record on file permanently.
“We have that privilege right now and it would be a shame to lose that privilege,” she said.
House Bill 870, “Record Closed Sessions of Public Bodies,” states that closed sessions held by a public body should be recorded in the form of sound or video and sound recordings. The recordings of closed sessions will become open for the public and media’s access. The recording will then be kept for at least two years from the date of the public release of the recording.
“The whole idea of going into closed session is to discuss issues that you might not be able to talk about in an open session,” Rich said.
The bill would not allow recordings about board discussions of personnel matters, potential terrorist activity, and privileged information with its attorney.
Chapel Hill Mayor Kleinschmidt says if the bill is passed, it won’t affect Orange County’s local government drastically. He says if the video and audio files taken during a closed-session are released to the public—it’ll be after the matter is concluded.
He believes the bill is an effort for state-wide transparency in local government—things that are already practiced in our area.
“What I think is basically going on here is that NC House is just concerned that there are things going-on that are trying to circumvent the open-meeting laws,” said Kleinschmidt.
House Bill 870 is now heading to the Senate for discussion.