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editorial - herald - 4/18/01

April 17, 2001

Local governments must operate in the public eye



A West Virginia deputy attorney general says that the town of Hedgesville's new budget may be illegal because elected officials violated the state's open meetings law when they adopted it. Town officials need to take corrective action as soon as possible.

According to Deputy Attorney General Dawn Warfield, Hedgesville officials didn't notify the media of a special meeting that was held March 26 to pass the town's 2001-2002 budget. Warfield also said that the town had failed to make the council's agenda available in advance to the public for at least five months.

Attempts to contact Mayor Mary Beth Good and her husband, Town Recorder Ron Good, were unsuccessful, so it's uncertain why the council acted as it did on the budget, or failed to provide the public with meeting agendas.

It may be that if there are no pressing issues that prompt the public to attend council meetings on a regular basis, elected officials may come to believe that folks just aren't interested. Judging by some voter turnouts in recent local elections, we'd have to say they're probably correct. But we'd also have to say that one of the duties of those in elected office is to get the public involved in what's going on in local government.

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The payoff for that effort comes in a couple of areas. The first is that citizens are more likely to volunteer their time and expertise if they're informed about where the needs are, and about how they can help save tax money and/or promote improvements.

Citizens are also more likely to run for office themselves if government is run in an open manner that encourages participation by everyone, as opposed to a secretive system that offers few details about what it's doing and how its decisions are reached.

Hedgesville officials may have a logical explanation for not the problems Warfield cites. The Herald-Mail will provide editorial-page space for their reply, which we hope will include an acknowledgment that doing the public's business in public is the only way to operate.

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