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SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Secret meetings build mistrust of government

Athens Annexation Committee had an unannounced meeting last week that the mayor and City Council president should have stopped.

President Ronnie Marks said later that, "We do need to be a little more careful about having such meetings."

Indeed!

The state's new open meeting law, the one public officials overwhelmingly supported, requires that a government body notify the public of prearranged meetings, including those of committees it creates.

Athens did not give notification last week for a meeting to which at least four committee members showed up.

In addition to apparently being outside the law, the ill-advised meeting created more suspicion than it helped advance solving the problems.

School Supt. Orman Bridges Jr. said he attended because he wasn't sure what the group would discuss. He said the group didn't talk about schools or busing while he was there; however, he said he left early.

Mr. Marks said the meeting was more about planning than annexation.

Mayor Dan Williams said the group discussed busing and the city not having a school in the east side of the city.

And Councilman Harold Wales, who represents the east side, said he wasn't even invited. "Any issue that is about District 2, I want to be a part of," he said later.

Athens is competing with Madison for growth in east Limestone County, which puts some new residents a farther distance from city schools than they want. Some of those people favor de-annexation because of the school issue.

Athens, by having such meetings, leaves the impression it's in a defensive circling-the-wagons mentality.

Mr. Marks needs to do better than be a little more careful about conducting business in the open. Secret meetings create suspicion and hard feelings.

The wide support of the new law, that includes the Legislature and Gov. Bob Riley, does more than suggest casual compliance.

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