City board action alarming

Mount Airy Commissioner Steve Yokeley was a little miffed.

And he had a right to be.

Recently, he asked that a particular item be placed on the agenda for a board meeting, only to learn a majority of his fellow commissioners refused to do so.

This presents at least two problems which should concern Mount Airy residents.

First, a sitting commissioner should have the right to put an item on the agenda. During discussion of the matter during the board’s most recent meeting, some commissioners expressed a concern that a commissioner could use this privilege to bring up things that might be inappropriate for a public meeting — perhaps carrying out a vendetta against a local property owner or business operator.

While the fears expressed by other commissioners could come to fruition, the alternative is worse — muzzling a commissioner with whom they might have a disagreement, thus preventing that commissioner from representing the people that elected him, or her, in the way he might believe is best.

If a commissioner is using his post, and the arena of public meetings, to unfairly attack local residents, or to carry out a personal agenda, the mayor can always call for an end to discussions, the fellow commissioners can vote the matter down, and voters can eventually select someone else to fill that seat.

But it’s wrong for other commissioners to be able to prevent one of their colleagues from placing items on the public agenda.

Thankfully, the board last week voted 5-0 to remedy this, officially adopting a policy which allows the mayor and the commissioners to have items placed on the public agenda, without needing approval from the rest of the board.

The second, and perhaps more troubling aspect of this, was the fact that when Yokeley learned his request had been denied, the reason was that the majority of the other commissioners had denied his request.

The board members are voting in private?

This, we find, disturbing. Not necessarily surprising, given this board’s history, but it is nevertheless disturbing.

We understand some informal discussion goes on between the mayor, city manager, and commissioners. The mayor and city manager may call a commissioner to get clarification on a matter, or board members may talk about city business in one-on-one settings.

But for an actual vote to take place away from the public, even an informal telephone poll, is unethical and quite possibly in violation of state open meeting laws.

Yet it appears this is exactly what has happened with this board — again.

We have, in recent years, repeatedly expressed skepticism, and sometimes flat-out disbelief, in statements made by this board. We’ve called into question its honesty, as an entity, and at times wondered if the commissioners had any respect for open meeting laws and, most importantly, any respect for the voters of this city.

We understand some members of the board, as well as the city administration, take issue with us when we pose those questions, yet the board persists in behavior like this. When this sort of thing happens we have to question just how much city business is still being done in private, and how can anyone trust a board that still persists in doing business away from the public?