Public Part of ‘Public Meeting’ at Department of Commerce Lasts About Two Minutes

October 18, 2016

Inside Insight

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By DUNCAN TAYLOR

meeting in progress

It was a ‘public meeting,’ all right. Only the public was asked to leave.

State entities are required to post their proposed agendas publicly. The reason: so the public and the media can attend the meeting and see what’s being voted on, what policies are being implemented by government, and how the public’s money is being spent.

At the Coordinating Council for Economic Development’s Enterprise Program Committee (EPC), none of this seems to apply. The Coordinating Council approves taxpayer-funded tax breaks and grants to private companies in economic development incentives deals.

The Nerve has previously detailed the ways in which the EPC and its Coordinating Council ride roughshod over the notion of transparency and public accountability. To see if the agency’s policy has changed, I attended the October 11 meeting.

The policy has not changed.

Upon arriving at the Commerce Department and introducing myself, I was told I would only be in the meeting for as long as it took to approve of the minutes from the previous meeting. One member of the Coordinating Council was interested to know why I was there.

“Why are you here?” he asked. “This is just a rescheduled meeting from last week.”

“I’m a reporter for The Nerve.”

Approving the minutes took about two minutes. After that, the Coordinating Council retired to Executive Session. Members of the public are not allowed in to Executive Session meetings. There was only one member of the public in attendance – me – so I was politely shown the door.

Strangely, the meeting began with a reference by the chairman to how the Coordinating Council was complying with Freedom of Information Act requirements by posting an agenda publicly before the meeting began. In the Council’s defense, an agenda was indeed sent out to reporters, and all the items on the agenda – all the items, that is, except the one marked “approval of previous minutes” – are marked “confidential.”

So it was a public meeting, sure. But all but two minutes of it were closed to the public.