- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Jan. 27

The Daily Home, Talladega, Ala., on teeth are needed in Open Meetings Act:

The excuses and apologies for violating the state’s Open Meetings Act of 2005 are all too familiar.

They didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. They thought they were abiding by the law. It won’t happen again.

And the shoot-the-messenger resentment when we report on it is also a familiar refrain. The newspaper is just digging up dirt; we’re barking up the wrong tree_as if reporters aren’t supposed to dig, and watchdogs aren’t supposed to bark.

The latest controversy over the Act in our coverage area occurred recently in Riverside. In case you missed it, the city council held public interviews of candidates for the city clerk’s position there_as they should_but when they decided to vote unanimously to hire one of those candidates, they did so with no discussion—at least no public discussion—and strangely enough, the candidate they chose was the only one attending the meeting. The public was shut out of hearing the deliberations involved in choosing someone for one of the most important positions in municipal government. Emails between elected officials were released to this newspaper in response to a public information request.

We’re not questioning their selection, and we’re not suggesting there were any backroom deals. It simply appears to be another case of a public body skirting the openness we believe is needed for self-government to work at its best.

The state’s Act specifically forbids the use of electronic communications to circumvent the law, and that appears to be what happened. That part of the law is clear, but the law is flawed in other ways.

We appreciate those who offer themselves for public service. Most appointed boards do not pay a salary at all, and people elected to most councils and commissions_even state legislators_are paid modest amounts for the time and energy they are expected to devote to their jobs. Yet our system of government could not function without them.

But they need to remember that it is the people’s government, not theirs, and the people have a right to know how and why decisions are made.

The bill working its way through the legislature, if its teeth aren’t pulled before passage, should help serve as a reminder.




Jan. 22

Gadsden (Ala.) Times on constitutional convention isn’t the solution:

The idea of a second constitutional convention for the United States has been percolating since the 19th century, and it hasn’t been associated with a single party or philosophy. Various groups, convinced that the founding fathers either didn’t get it right or didn’t act with sufficient clarity in 1787, have called for a re-do.

Most recently, legislatures in 20 states (including Alabama) have passed resolutions calling for a constitutional convention under Article 5 of the present document to pass a federal balanced budget amendment.

No such convention is currently scheduled. No such convention is likely to be scheduled for years, if not decades. That hasn’t stopped Republican legislators from trying to make sure Alabama is ready, should it happen at some point.

Sens. Trip Pittman of Daphne and Arthur Orr of Decatur have introduced bills, and Reps. Barry Moore of Enterprise and Ken Johnson of Moulton plan to do so as well, establishing a method for picking Alabama’s delegates to a constitutional convention and setting the ground rules for their operation.

In December Pittman and Orr attended a meeting of about 100 mostly GOP state legislators held at Mount Vernon, Va., the home of George Washington.

The Mount Vernon Assembly, as it was called, is likely to meet again in May. Its goal is to rein in the power of the federal government. The chosen method would be a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that would forbid the federal government, barring emergency conditions, from spending more than it takes in. That is seen as the only way to force a recalcitrant Congress to take difficult measures to pull the U.S. out of its current debt morass.

Thirty-four states would have to call for a constitutional convention for one to occur, and anything proposed at a convention would need to be passed by 38 states to become law.

Pittman and Orr’s bills got approval from a Senate committee last week. We’ll be stunned if they aren’t passed by a conservative Legislature.

We’re not going to criticize the notion of reducing the national debt. It’s parasitic to this country’s health. We do question the wisdom of this approach.

One can only imagine what a 21st-century constitutional convention would be like. This effort is being driven by conservatives, but does anyone think liberals wouldn’t be out, loud and in force, trying to get their ideas enacted? (Some Occupy Wall Street participants talked last year about a constitutional convention). The streets would be filled with advocates and protesters, the Twittersphere would implode and the media coverage would be proctological and endless. The results could rip the country apart, rather than producing a new governing document to unify it.




Jan. 23

Dothan (Ala.) Eagle on pass best Open Meetings Act:

In 2005, the Alabama Legislature passed a retooled Open Meetings Law designed to provide more effective tools to prop open the doors of government to ensure public access. In less than 10 years, it’s back to the drawing board for open meetings, as three court rulings undermined the 2005 law.

It shouldn’t be such as arduous task to ensure that the government described by Lincoln as “of the people, by the people, for the people” is open to “the people.” Yet the Alabama Supreme Court, in dealing with a case about serial meetings that defy the spirit of open government, found that such meetings did not violate the law, basing the majority’s interpretation of a single phrase. Another high court decision disenfranchised two litigants who sued the Alabama Public Television Commission for discussing one’s job performance in a closed meeting. The court ruled that the litigants did not have standing, as they could not receive the civil fines.

These weak links are reason enough to overhaul the law. But the most glaring issue comes from the case Pettway v. Marsh, challenging the passage of the Alabama Accountability Act. The high court ruled that the state constitution does not require the Alabama Legislature to conduct its meetings in public. The constitution allows the Legislature to adopt its own procedural rules, which the Supreme Court majority consider as an exemption to the litigation in question.

Clearly, the intent is to ensure that all governmental deliberations are open to public scrutiny, with few specific exceptions. In the current legislative session, there are companion bills in the House and Senate that would stop the practice of circumvention by serial meetings, ensure that citizens have the legal standing to sue for violations of the Open Meetings Act and ensure that the Alabama Legislature, our lawmaking body, has a clear duty to meet in public except when it votes to go into executive session under proper conditions and procedures.

For the public good, lawmakers must make every effort to ensure the best possible Open Meetings Act is passed this session.



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