Over the past couple of weeks, the question of how frequently, and for what reasons, the Marquette County Board should go into closed session has been raised by a couple of board members.
At the urging of county civil counsel Stephen Adamini, the panel has been going into closed session at an increasingly frequent rate in recent months for subjects ranging from collective bargaining negotiations strategy, the potential mining severance tax and settlement discussions.
Some board members have asked recently whether some of the subjects might not have been able to be discussed in open session.
Commissioner Bill Nordeen voted against retiring to closed session for a couple of issues.
Last week, Commissioner Steven Pence suggested he may request one of the written opinions prepared by Adamini for closed session be released to the public in open session.
Pence, who did not disclose what issue the opinion involved, said Adamini's writing was more sage political advice for the board, rather than legal guidance warranting a closed conference.
Adamini has suggested any issue that could lead to potential or eventual, rather than current, litigation is justifiable closed session rationale. Pence and others aren't so sure.
Chairwoman Deborah Pellow said ultimately the board itself has the final vote on whether to approve a closed session. Both Adamini and Pellow said the closed session provision had not been abused and wouldn't be. Pellow said the panel would be additionally cognizant of the closed session issue going forward.
But we think that when the panel struggles for several minutes to decide whether to have closed session be a standing agenda item or merely add it when necessary, the board is hardly on solid ground in deciding for itself whether closed session is, or would ever, be abused.
We are also concerned about the limited information provided when the board emerges from closed session, making motions and then voting to "support the recommendation of civil counsel" and saying nothing more. There have also been times when the closed session topics have not been clearly defined.
Closed session has also been on the meeting agenda and then not held.
We understand the importance of the board being able to discuss certain topics in closed session as provided under the Open Meetings Act. However, we wholly agree with Nordeen and Pence, and others on the panel, that whenever possible the business of the public should be conducted in open session.
We trust the entire board and Mr. Adamini are truly supporting that concept and the recent conversations will remind the panel of the public trust and the potential pitfalls of not doing their utmost to remain as transparent as possible.