Hendersonville Times-News: Council should insist on openness

From the Hendersonville Times-News (2/12/09): It’s happened again. A small town police chief has been suspended. The chief claims that there is more to the story, a story that he can’t or won’t tell.

The city manager says he can say nothing — cannot answer questions or utter even a syllable — because of state confidentiality laws.

This time the dateline is Brevard.

City Manager Joe Albright suspended veteran police chief Dennis Wilde on Feb. 4. The suspension came after a series of closed door meetings with the Brevard City Council that the manager said were private because of either personnel or litigation exemptions under the state Open Meetings Law.

This demonstrates yet again that the Open Meetings Law has holes big enough to drive a jetliner through.

The Brevard situation mirrors the Fletcher police saga that dragged on for three years, the public in darkness the entire time. The town even tried to conceal in secrecy a $44,000 severance package it paid to Chief Langdon Raymond until the Times-News threatened a lawsuit and the town attorney advised the manager and council that the payment was a public record.

Will we see the same narrative play out in Brevard? Let’s hope not, but so far the signs are discouraging.

As we’ve said dozens of times before in these columns, we are not talking about the thrill of news reporting here; we’re talking about the people’s right to know.

The Brevard City Council should listen to its citizens.

“I wondered what the reason was,” said Pauline Hawkins, one of several residents interviewed at random on Friday. “I am curious to know if the City Council took a vote. If he is under suspicion I think the reasons need to be public. There must be substantial evidence if he is suspended without pay.”

Must be, but Albright is not saying and under North Carolina’s weak sunshine laws he does not have to.

“I know Chief Wilde,” said Janet Henderson, another Brevard resident. “I’m sure the truth will come out.”

Chief Wilde implied in a statement that his suspension arises from the department’s role in an investigation into a misdemeanor complaint filed against Albright last September. Albright eventually settled with the complainant through mediation.

“The complete story will come out soon,” the chief said on Friday, “and those involved will be held accountable.”


It seems like that never happens. What usually happens is a closed door meeting followed by a settlement and a severance deal that includes a gag order. There is no openness. There is no transparency. There is no accountability. The truth doesn’t come out.

The Brevard City Council does not have to continue on a secret path. State law gives boards the authority to override personnel secrecy when confidence in the town government is at stake.

That standard is met here.

When Albright makes his decision on Chief Wilde, he should fully explain why. The City Council should insist on it. The town residents certainly do.

Staff Editorial