Supporting transparency is never a bad move
Let’s be completely honest: the Haywood County School Board’s long-time practice of recording its work sessions makes it one of the most transparent elected boards in the region. No other boards in Haywood County do the same, and I’m betting not many in the entire state record work sessions. For that, the school board should be commended.
So when School Board Chairman Chuck Francis announced Aug. 4 that the board would stop recording those sessions, many of us who argue for open government were incensed. When a board embraces openness, going backwards seems much worse and more suspicious. Because every presidential candidate since Richard Nixon in the early 1970s has released their tax returns, Donald Trump’s refusal to do so arouses suspicion.
As it turns out — thankfully — Francis backed off that decision, sending out a statement last week admitting he had erred:
I have listened to the public. My initial decision to stop videotaping the Haywood County Board of Education work sessions was a mistake. For that I apologize and accept responsibility for a poor decision. After my decision, I heard many folks were concerned about the transparency of our board and the many reasons that we should continue the videos. I did seek advice from close friends and prayed about my decision.
… I have heard you and these are your meetings. Please attend if possible and if you can’t, we got it covered … just watch the video.
The Haywood County school system has been under lots of scrutiny in the past couple of years. Every school system in the state has had their budget issues played out in the media as the fiscal give and take from the General Assembly seems a never-ending issue. Plus, the opening of Shining Rock Charter School was the catalyst for a larger discussion about student enrollment numbers that came to a head with the decision to close Central Elementary School.
The Central Elementary closing issue is what some of us, me included, believe may have played a part in the initial decision to stop recording work sessions. The lawsuit against the school system by Mark Melrose is based in part on information from a work session that included comments on the closing and the potential use of Central Elementary as a location for a new central office.
The whole reason for work sessions is to provide elected officials with a more informal venue to discuss various options and work out plans before taking an actual vote. It saves time at the meetings where votes take place. However, since those work sessions are often where the nitty gritty is discussed and decisions made, it is vitally important that clear and complete records of those meetings remain a part of the public record.
Simply put, we’re glad the Haywood County School Board will continue to record work sessions. Perhaps other boards in the region will take note and go the extra mile for their constituents. And with an election on the horizon, School Board Chairman Chuck Francis went from having egg on his face to becoming a standard bearer of open, transparent government.