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Closed meetings standard practice in Carroll

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — Closed session practices by Carroll County governments have been called into question recently, but county boards are not necessarily meeting behind closed doors more than they have in the past.

With concerns about use of closed sessions persisting in Carroll County, The Gazette recently checked into the record of executive sessions.

State law allows governmental bodies to meet behind closed doors in some situations where the hearing of matters in public meeting would be detrimental to a board’s position.

All sorts of agencies use closed sessions as a tool to discuss sensitive matters in private, such as personnel issues, economic development work, potential and actual lawsuits and more.

Carroll County’s governing bodies such as the board of supervisors, the Industrial Development Authority and the Public Service Authority have met under exceptions allowed by law for closed sessions.

According to Carroll supervisors’ meeting minutes, the county board regularly takes advantage of exceptions allowing closed sessions.

Meeting transcripts show that the supervisors in 2008 have met in closed sessions at regular meetings, budget sessions, the annual organizational meeting and at a joint meeting with the IDA.

Times behind closed doors ranged from as little as 13 minutes to as much as two hours, according to county records from January to August.

Quite frequently, the supervisors go into closed session under the allowable exceptions for personnel, disposition of property, prospective business and legal matters.

But in some cases, they use only the personnel exception, such as their organizational session when County Attorney Jim Cornwell was hired, or in budget sessions when determining salaries for specific employees.

The supervisors started out 2008 with a 25-minute closed session at their organizational meeting.

Some closed sessions this year have been minutes in duration.

But according to meetings transcripts through August, the supervisors had nine closed sessions that lasted longer than an hour.

Of those nine, two were nearly two hours long.

It’s not necessarily the case that this board of supervisors has met in closed session for longer times or more frequently that its predecessor board

The longest closed session to occur this year for the board of supervisors (through August) was about two hours.

Records for 2007 show that the supervisors that year, made up of five different members than those currently sitting, met for two hours and 39 minutes in one case.

In 2007, the county supervisors held nine closed meetings that lasted almost an hour or longer.

That year, closed sessions ranged from about 30 minutes to the longest time of two hours and 39 minutes.

In December 2007, that board of supervisors did not have a closed session at all, according to meeting transcripts.

• Carroll County Board of Supervisors meeting minutes through June 2008 are available on the county’s Web site at carrollcountyva.org.

Minutes of the Industrial Development Authority are not yet posted, but county officials say posting is in the works.