Group questions why Danville commission meets so much behind closed doors

February 24, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

Danville City Commission doesn't give the public enough information about why it has to go into executive session, and meets too much behind closed doors, a citizen watchdog group told the body at its meeting Monday.

The Danville Citizens for Good Government says it took an informal survey of other municipalities and found that in 2003 local governments in Lexington and Louisville had no executive sessions; Frankfort City Commission had sessions at 31 percent of its meetings and Danville closed doors at 85.71 percent of its meetings.

Commissioners defended the practice. Ed Hays, a city attorney, said that the reasons are always announced and were, in his opinion, legal.

Jack May, who researched the issue for DCGG, pointed out that the city has to announce the general nature of the business to be considered privately, the reason it can't be done in an open meeting and must list the law that applies to each situation.


Commissioners commonly cite their reason for going into executive session by saying the matter concerns "litigation," "property acquisition" or "the hiring, firing or discipline of an employee."

May said he doesn't believe that is the legal way to do it.

These sessions often last hours, sometimes not ending until midnight, and the city rarely takes any votes afterwards. Hays said that the city constantly has pending litigation and considers property acquisition.

Mayor John W.D. Bowling asked the DCGG representative Erin Avery, who read the group's letter to commissioners, if he had a solution to the problem.

Avery said he wants to see the city follow the law.

Bowling then asked Avery if DCGG was politically motivated because there were three candidates for the upcoming Commission primary in the group.

Avery said that candidates are asked not to vote.

Commissioner Chester Kavanaugh wanted to know if the group represented all citizens and if it had any minority members.

DCGG Acting Chair Ron Jackson said they have asked the local NAACP members to join and said that Kavanaugh, who is black, was welcome to join.

Commissioner Terry Crowley suggested that the commissioners list the exception before they go into a meeting, but said that he didn't anticipate that there would be fewer executive sessions.

After a more than three-hour executive session, Commissioner Ryan Owens told Avery that he believed that because Danville was a city manager form of government, the closed sessions were necessary.

The Commission has spent much of the past year in executive session discussing who would be hired to fill the position of city manager left vacant when Steve Biven was asked to resign, a move which, in part, prompted the formation of DCGG.

The position was filled recently with the hiring of Darrell Blenniss.

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