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CMS should open task force meetings

The public has open meetings law and reason on its side

Beginning next month, dozens of volunteers on 22 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools task forces will meet to talk about topics that range from closing the achievement gap to public trust. Those discussions will contribute to the district’s long-range plan, and Superintendent Heath Morrison says that task force leaders feel that things would move along better if the meetings were closed to the public.

We get it. Having a reporter in the corner of the room can sometimes change how the rest of the room acts. But closing the room to the public, as Morrison has decided to do, comes with a potential larger cost. And besides that, it probably violates the law.

That’s what two experts from the UNC Chapel Hill School of Government told the Observer’s Ann Doss Helms recently. The experts say that because Morrison appointed the task forces in his capacity as superintendent, and because the types of activities they will perform are within the scope of N.C. open meetings laws, the meetings should be open.

This is, of course, a regular rub between media and public officials, including the Observer and CMS. In fact, the last time the newspaper objected to CMS closing a meeting, CMS attorney George Battle III complained that the resulting article in the Observer quoted the legal opinion of the N.C. Press Association. He suggested Helms try the UNC School of Government next time such an issue arose. She did, and those experts think Battle’s interpretation of law is off.

So do we, but for a larger reason, too. The conversations those task forces embark on may have significant impact in the decisions CMS makes about its future. At the least, the discussions offer a window into how the public feels about major issues confronting our schools. Citizens have a right to look in that window – a legally protected right.

One more reason: Given that Morrison wants the community to unify around the plans those conversations help produce, does he really want to shut the public out of any point of the process? He should declare the meetings open.

Transparent redistricting

The state NAACP has at least one thing wrong and one thing right in its fight against North Carolina’s new political district maps.

That group and others asked the state Supreme Court to force Justice Paul Newby to recuse himself from the case. Newby’s reelection campaign this year benefited from money given by groups who support, and may have been directly involved with crafting, the current Republican redistricting plan. But we agree with the court’s decision not to force Newby’s recusal. It would have set a bad precedent, requiring recusals when no direct conflict exists, and even when the justice stands to receive no direct benefit from a case’s outcome.

The NAACP has it right, though, on another front. It wants email and other documents from lawyers who were paid with taxpayer money to help legislative Republicans draw the plans. We can think of no reason those shouldn’t be public record. A three-judge panel agreed, but legislative leaders have appealed. The Supreme Court should make those documents public, and let the redistricting challenge be judged on the merits.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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