By John Peters
March 19, 2014
Tonight is when the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners is likely to take up the issue of whether to create a redevelopment commission for the downtown area of the city.
The commission, if created and appointed, will have fairly sweeping powers, able to proclaim a property or area blighted, able even to take property through the process of eminent domain, as well as apply for grants and loan money in certain circumstances.
Two weeks ago the commissioners held a public hearing on the question, but we get the idea the only reason the board did so was because it is required by state law to hold such a hearing. We say this because the city board, which as far as we know has been exemplary in keeping its business in the public, has been discussing and considering this move for some time.
Behind closed doors.
There are legitimate reasons for a local governing body to hold closed sessions. When discussing a particular individual government employee’s performance, when discussing probable or actual litigation and strategies for engaging in that litigation, and in some cases maybe issues dealing with recruiting business to the area (and then only because of the competitive nature of courting businesses).
Outside of that, we would be hard pressed to think of legitimate, ethical reasons for a board to go behind closed doors. Yes, state law allows for other reasons, and city and county attorneys are always finagling what we would call creative interpretations of state code so the board they represent feels justified in holding a closed session.
But the bottom line is that most discussions and action should be in public. After all, it is the public — the individuals who make up a community — who are supposedly being represented by the governing body. Their interests are better served when that governing is done in public.
That’s why it was puzzling to learn the Mount Airy board had been discussing this in closed session for weeks, if not months. Given the wide sweeping authority such a board could have, we question the legitimacy of creating such a body. And if the commissioners move ahead and create the commission, given its birth in secrecy every move it makes will carry a cloud of suspicion.
We believe the creation of a redevelopment commission is bad for Mount Airy. We think the closed-door discussions on the subject call into question the motives behind such a body being created.
We hope the commissioners agree and tonight will vote against its creation.