We imagine it can be difficult to serve in any capacity for a public governing body.
And for that reason, we always attempt to express understanding, as far as possible, in dealing with these agencies.
We often run into situations where a public body, sometimes unintentionally, doesn’t follow the laws on the books which govern, for example, how their meetings are to be conducted in a manner which ensures the public has complete and unfettered access to the organizations which represent them.
Sometimes, when that happens, we simply contact the agency and let them know about the issue. More often than not, that results in the agency either correcting the issue or working to prevent it from happening again.
In other cases, however, we take the information public or pursue it through the legal relief to which we have access.
That has been the case with the City of Martin. The city has, in the past, refused to turn over relevant, basic records, and we have pursued that all the way to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office. If you’re a regular reader, of course, you know that, because we took you on that journey with us.
Our intent in doing that was not to embarrass the City of Martin or to hold it up for ridicule, but instead, to take the only means through which we have access in order to ensure that the city government is following the law.
Recently, we learned, however, that some city officials believe business needs to be discussed in “work sessions” outside of the public eye.
First and foremost, there is no provision in Kentucky’s Open Meetings Act which allows for a “work session.” Public bodies are to hold a regular meeting, set at a regular time and place, at which their business is to be conducted.
That helps ensure that, when the public has a question or problem, they know where to go and when to be there. In cases where business must be conducted outside of those regular meetings, there are provisions for special meetings to be held. The requirements on those meetings are quite stringent, and certainly require that the public be notified not only of the meeting time, date and place, but also that all business be set on an agenda 24 hours in advance of the meeting.
There is a very limited set of circumstances under which a public agency can discuss business outside the public’s view. Simply to discuss potentially controversial issues outside the view of the public is definitely not included in that set of circumstances.
Add to that the fact that we recently learned that there are very serious questions about whether the official meeting records — the minutes — are even being kept by city officials.
That’s incredibly dangerous and points to much bigger issues going on in the city.
Are we being nitpicky? No. Here’s why, there’s a great principle at stake and a number of dangers created by the way Martin’s government is operating.
When the people of Martin incorporated the city nearly 100 years ago, they were entering into a contract in which they decided that the best way to conduct the public’s business was to elect a group of individuals to represent their interests and make the tough decisions on their behalf.
That’s just elementary government, sure. But it seems that, in Martin, some officials have forgotten their elementary civics, and have abandoned their duties in order to serve their own interests.
Further, the actions such as those we see in Martin detrimentally undermine the essential democratic process. One of the slogans of the founders of our nation was, “No taxation without representation.”
When the people are intentionally shut out. When public business is conducted without the people having a say. When records, essential to allow leaders to be held accountable, are not kept, this is what is happening — “taxation without representation.”
Decisions are being made in Martin to which the public has no access or say. Our reporting has revealed that the city’s financial record keeping calls into question its financial viability and we would argue that the city is in disarray. The city council has not approved payment of bills since February and it did not approve a budget for this fiscal year.
However, without this newspaper and a dedicated group of residents and interested citizens continuing to doggedly pursue the truth, it would all be done behind closed doors. The people would truly be simply paying taxes without any knowledge of how that money is being spent.
Something must change in Martin, and it must change soon. The way the city is currently being run makes it susceptible to a level of corruption and mismanagement which could endanger the city’s very existence.
The people of Martin deserve better. The democratic process deserves better. And the officials in Martin know better.
It’s time to come out from behind closed doors, warts and all, and begin to deal with the city’s issues in a real way. We’re watching, and so are the people there.
Do the right thing.