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Public matters should be kept in the open

April 17, 2011
Morning Journal News

We find it interesting that the Southern Local Board of Education last week approved a gas/oil lease with Chesapeake Exploration but details of that agreement were not available at the school board meeting when our reporter asked for them.

Superintendent James Herring tried to explain that by saying he had not yet signed the contract. But, does that mean board members agreed to something they also had not yet reviewed or discussed?

We certainly believe if an agreement was approved, the details should be made clear to the public.

For Chesapeake to tell a public body not to disclose the details so it can hide from other potential lease holders what amounts are being paid is ridiculous, and for a public body to go along with hiding such details is illegal.

If Chesapeake doesn't want to disclose its business with private property owners, that's all well and good.

However, it is not up to Southern Local or any public body to worry about helping a private company keep its other clients in the dark. It is the district's obligation to let its taxpayers know what this agreement will mean in terms of revenue or obligations.

We find it particularly disturbing that neither Herring nor any board member came to last week's meeting prepared to answer questions about the lease from not only the media but any taxpayer in the audience who might have wanted to know.

The fact that the board quickly voted on the agreement with absolutely no discussion tells us, too, that this had to have been discussed somewhere. Since there have been no committee meetings announced to the Journal, we have to wonder just when the board was apprised of the terms of this agreement and when did members have the opportunity to discuss the pros and cons?

We have, over recent months, seen a disturbing trend with the Southern board. Members file in at the onset of the monthly meeting, vote on a prepared agenda, then retire to an executive session called for "matters required to be kept confidential by law."

Generally speaking, when a school board gives that reason for going behind closed doors, it refers to a student-related issue.

Unless this district has an inordinate amount of student problems, we have a problem believing the board needs to meet every single month behind closed doors for matters requiring confidentiality.

Could these closed-door sessions be where the board is discussing such public matters as gas and oil leases or all the other topics that are voted on every month with no discussion or comment?

If so, the board needs to realize it is acting illegally and needs to begin discussing publicly the issues that tax payers, parents and the media have a right to know.



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