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If you boil down just about any issue before an elected or appointed public body, does it ever make sense for them to have an executive session — to meet in the shadows of secrecy when what they’re supposed to be doing is business for the public?

While the Charleston County School District Board of Trustees or various municipal councils often preen because they think they can do business in private, they should follow a simple rule: Don’t go into executive session. Ever. Do business in public. You might get occasional political blowback but not for doing the duty you took an oath to uphold.

Consider this: State law does not actually require public bodies to ever hold executive or private sessions for public business. It offers very narrow exceptions that allow public officials to meet privately — for things like contract negotiations or land deals.

But public officials too often and too easily adjourn for specious and sometimes illegal reasons just to keep voters from keeping an eye out for what they’re really doing.

Stop it. Meet in public.

Too many elected or appointed public officials seem to be ignorant or confused about what they are allowed to do. Solution: Read the law. As S.C. Press Association attorney Jay Bender tells us, “We have elected them as our representatives but they have concluded they were elected to be our rulers and that’s not how democracy functions.”

Brazen displays of ignorance about the law are not attractive. Just this week, the CCSD Board of Trustees adjourned in what was an improperly called special meeting through a motion to “convene [an] executive session to consider items covered by attorney-client privilege.”

On its face, the motion is evidence of an illegal executive session because it was not specific.
“The Supreme Court has been very clear that the announced purpose must be very specific and more than receipt of legal advice,” Bender told the City Paper. “It has to indicate what it relates to.”

Further evidence that the illegal executive session, approved by five trustees supported by the right-wing Moms for Liberty group, is in remarks by the board chair, Pam McKinney.

She explained after the illegal session that its purpose was to “clarify the duties and responsibilities of the superintendent based on the contract.”

Sorry, not good enough. There’s an exception in state law for contract negotiations, but Superintendent Eric Gallien’s contract has already been negotiated. So whatever they were talking about in private was something in an existing contract that’s already public. Shouldn’t we know about that? Shouldn’t any concerns be talked about among the people who hired the trustees, Charleston’s voters? And if trustees were getting “legal advice” about Gallien’s performance or some other issue, that should have been part of the motion.

Thanks to the continuing secrecy by the latest iteration of Charleston’s school trustees, trust in the board is at an all-time low. The only real way to restore trust is for the five Moms for Liberty acolytes to part ways with the authoritarian group and its financial backers and meet in sunshine.

The public has a right to know. It shouldn’t have to learn about shenanigans in newspapers or court.

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