Daily Reflector: Pre-agenda meetings violate spirit of meetings law

From the Greenville Daily Reflector (9/2/10): The Pitt County Board of Commissioners may well be within its legal right to hold pre-agenda meetings to discuss items set for discussion at an ensuing "official" session. The gatherings are meant to be informal and are open to the public, so they are likely to meet the letter of North Carolina's open meetings statute.

In no way do they honor the spirit of that law, however, nor the principles of openness and transparency that lawmakers wanted to protect with it. If the pre-agenda meetings intend to help commissioners in the execution of their duties, accommodations must be made to ensure those sessions unfold in full view of the public, with a written record available to document what occurred.

The county commission usually meets on the first and third Monday of each month to tackle the pressing business facing this growing community. In advance of those formal sessions, several members gather on the Thursday before each meeting to go over the items on the agenda in what has become known as pre-agenda meetings. County Manager Scott Elliott is present to answer commissioners’ questions and to learn what information he needs his staff to gather before the regular meeting.

Unlike the official meetings, the pre-agenda sessions are not televised or recorded. They are open to the public, but held in a room that would not accommodate a large group. No minutes are kept, so there is no record of attendance or of the discussion. Elliott controls the flow of conversation, and says he halts commissioners if they stray into conducting official business.

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