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Council needs transparency

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

What does the mayor’s basement have to do with good government?

The traditional July break from meeting is a good time for the Greenville City Council to stop a bad practice—discussing the public’s business in afternoon “workshops” in a small conference room without live coverage and no public comment opportunity. A case can be made for a very occasional real workshop. What this Council is doing ain’t that.

Here’s why routine “workshops” are bad government. Workshops: (1) Are inconveniently held in a small conference room at times more difficult for working people to attend. (2) Aren’t broadcast live on the city channel. The 4/8/19 “workshop” video wasn’t available to the public by 5/1/19. It was eventually posted; I don’t know when. The 3/25/19 and 6/10/19 “workshop” videos aren’t up as of this writing (7/1/19). (3) Provide no public comment opportunity. (4) Cover important, controversial issues, meriting full public airing, e.g., the airport, controversial smoking policies, Jones-Lee House, stormwater, downtown nighttime environment. (5) Set very, very bad precedent; if some controversial topic comes along, the mayor and councilmembers can minimize their public exposure by “hiding” the issue in one of their routine “workshops.” Not good.

After this letter, the mayor and some councilmembers may tell staff, “Get these tapes on the website sooner. Add public comment periods.” But this is window dressing. Every one of the above five concerns needs handling; do that by conducting the public’s business in regular meetings, in council chambers, and with the live city channel covering it.

These “workshops” are technically legal, but they’re not good government. I suppose it would be legal for the Council to hold meetings in the mayor’s basement at 3 a.m. Our City Council should always err on the side of transparency. It’s not doing that with these “workshops.” Why?

Calvin Mercer

Greenville

The writer is the former at-large representative on the Greenville City Council.

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