Is it Business as Usual?
Secret Meetings or Open Government?
By: Pat Hunter
Bad habits sure seem hard to break at times. Do you remember some time back, hearing Mayor Arp comment how elected officials were meeting and eventually they made recommendations to commissioners about pay raises and employee and insurance benefits? The Mayor argued that since he named elected officials not commissioners to the Committee that it was ok; do you remember his excuse for the secret meetings?
The public is supposed to receive adequate notice of public meetings whenever the “members of any public body which consists of two (2) or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration…”
It ran as front page news in the News Herald, “Committee to tackle hot issue.” The article started off, “At Monday evening’s county commission workshop, Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp announced he is forming a committee to study the amount county employee’s pays for their health insurance. He said he will name Commissioners Nancy Marcus and Shirley Reno along with Election Commissioner Dana Zehner, Clerk and Master Fred Chaney and all elected county department heads to be on the committee to review the controversial topic. Marcus again raised the issue that caused so much heated debate last year, namely to increase the amount paid by county employees from approximately 10 percent to 25 percent while lowering the amount paid by the county from 90 percent to 75 percent. Last fall, county employees came out in force to oppose the idea. Marcus recently sent a letter to her fellow commissioners saying she could not vote for a budget that did not address the county employee insurance contribution.”
The news article gave the time and date of the meeting, “After the letter was released and before protests could begin, Marcus agreed the matter should be discussed in a workshop. Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider came to last month’s county commission meeting and urged commissioners to form a committee so everyone’s voice could be heard on the issue. He, as an elected official, will be asked to join the committee. The insurance committee will have its first meeting 9 a.m. June 20 at the Loudon County Courthouse Annex in Loudon.”
But come Friday morning at 9:00, the lights were turned off at the Annex basement meeting room and the door locked shut with a poster on the window, which announced that the meeting was cancelled with no explanation. With the high cost of fuel, it would appear that county officials could care less about inconveniencing the public.
Budget Committee: Commissioners Don Miller (l) Bob Franke, Chris Park, Nancy Marcus, County Mayor Doyle Arp, Budget Chairman
On June 19th (Thursday), the day before the Insurance Committee meeting was supposed to be held, the Budget Committee (pictured) had met to discuss the Board of Education’s budget. County Mayor Doyle Arp’s office was in charge of scheduling meetings for the Insurance Committee and Commissioner Nancy Marcus who serves on the committee, made no public announcement about the meeting cancellation.
Nobody seemed to care for backroom politics when the shoe was on the other foot. Remember when Commissioner Nancy Marcus purportedly sent her correspondence to the other commissioners and issued her ultimatum about her vote on the budget and upping the employees insurance without public discussion or employee involvement?
Will elected county officials discuss the public’s business in the open or can the public expect secret meetings and more backroom politics? The public and employees are entitled to open honest discussion not smoke and mirrors!