What does Pike Co.

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2000

Commission have to hide?

Feb. 29, 2000 11 PM

Votes by government officials during meetings should be cast openly and not by secret ballot. In 1990, the Alabama Circuit Court for the Tenth Judicial District held that where an Alabama city council that met in executive session as a "committee of the whole" and held secret ballot for the position of president and president pro tempore, and then convened a formal council meeting and unanimously elected by voice vote the same individuals chosen in the secret ballot, the city council was in violation of the Alabama sunshine law. The newspaper was held to be entitled to an order compelling disclosure of persons for whom each council member voted in the secret ballot election. In that case, the newspaper was also able to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses.

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– Alabama Newspaper Legal Manual: Printed Oct. 13, 1997; Page 11

Monday night Pike County Commissioners cast secret ballots for their selection of a new emergency management director, violating the spirit of Alabama’s "sunshine laws" intended to provide the public with the right to know.

As elected officials, our commissioners chose to keep their choices a secret from their constituents, an action that begs the question, "What do they have to hide?"

What concerns us is that our commissioners seem to believe that the residents of the county have no right to know who they support in this matter, and moving beyond the issue in question, commissioners may be prone to follow the same path on other issues in the future.

In a democracy, voters are entitled to know where their leaders stand on issues. The Pike County Commission cannot and must not operate outside of the ethical ideals that make our democracy work.

While the vote did not represent "action" taken by the commission, it did prevent public involvement in the decision-making process.

The County Commission has been forthright with information regarding its selection of emergency management director until Monday night when it neglected its duty to the residents of Pike County.

Of the six commissioners, none were willing to allow their selection to be known, nor did any of them bother to discuss the recommendation of the state that two commissioners supported.

Dennis Bailey, attorney for the Alabama Press Association, agrees with us that the commission acted outside the boundaries of Alabama "sunshine" and open records and meetings laws.

"These laws are designed to ensure the public’s right to know," Bailey said, citing precedent from several court cases that show that a vote by secret ballot deprives the public of its right.

So again we ask what do Pike County commissioners have to hide? Why do they not want the county’s citizens where they stand on this vote?

Only the disclosure of the secret ballots will answer that question. Only by allowing the public to know will our commissioners be able to serve the constituents they were elected to represent.

We simply ask that commissioners say publicly for whom each voted, and we urge them to pledge to follow the spirit of cooperation between the public and the government that is backed by Alabama’s sunshine laws.

A failure to disclose this information leads us to believe that commissioners would continue to operate outside the spirit of the law, and this is something the citizens of Pike County cannot abide.

Commissioners must disclose their votes on this issue. Anything less is unacceptable.