Littrell weighs in on closed meetings

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By Christopher Brooke, Reporter

HILLSVILLE — As a candidate for the Carroll Board of Supervisors, Tom Littrell campaigned on having more open county meetings and using closed sessions as sparingly as possible.

After sitting in on both open and closed sessions, Littrell the supervisor believes that county officials have correctly and appropriately used exemptions allowed by law.

The point was raised recently by citizen Mike Goldwasser, as closed sessions have related to land deals by Carroll’s governing bodies.

Closed door sessions create distrust among county citizens, Goldwasser has told the supervisors and the Industrial Development Authority members.

Topics appropriate for closed sessions include personnel and legal matters, disposition of property and economic development work where disclosure could be detrimental to a governing agency’s position, according to the state Freedom of Information Act.

Littrell understands the concern. Before he was elected as Pipers Gap District supervisor, he shared the same view. That’s what led to him including it as an issue in his campaign.

He had attended some Carroll supervisors meetings in 2007, both as a member of the Twin County Airport Commission representative and as a citizen.

He witnessed the county board disappear behind closed doors for long stints, and wondered as a citizen where they were going and why.

“But after I was elected I realized that there are many components about county business that can’t be discussed in the open,” Littrell explained.

His perspective has changed now that he knows how closed sessions work.

Littrell feels reassured that closed sessions were conducted correctly after seeing them first hand. All business that the supervisors decide to undertake is “transacted in the open” for all to see, he adds.

There are some issues that could be hurtful should they be discussed in public, Littrell said.

He gave the example of a matter involving a specific employee being discussed by the previous board of supervisors in an open meeting, and it shouldn’t have been.

Another example would be disposition of property, he said. Putting it in general terms, Littrell noted that if a potential buyer offered $50,000 for a piece of land but was willing to go up to $75,000, they wouldn’t want the seller to know that detail.

If the buyer did find out, then he would likely hold out for the $75,000, Littrell said.

As stewards of the county budget, the supervisors want to be as frugal as possible, he said. Getting the best price would be a part of that duty.

Trying to attract businesses into Carroll County is another place where caution is needed.

“If they couldn’t be discussed in closed session, I don’t know if we would have got the two businesses that we got in the county,” he said, referring to a Love’s Truck Stop and Ameripumps bringing jobs and investment to Carroll.

So that the word doesn’t get out and businesses go to a competing locality, government officials try to keep economic development efforts quiet.

It seems to Littrell that closed sessions are always handled appropriately.

“I think it’s a problem between perception versus reality.”

When someone is not inside a closed session, they may have a feeling that the worst is happing, and that’s human nature, Littrell said.

“Sometimes you tend to think the worst.” He admits that’s what he thought when he was on the outside.

But as a Boy Scout leader, Littrell offered “Scout’s honor” in saying that the supervisors he’s worked with have never done anything incorrectly in relation to closed sessions.

Still, he’d like to have fewer closed sessions, if possible.

“Personally I would like to see that, but again we’re not wasting time and sometimes it just seems to take longer than others. I would like to see it shorter to help with the perception.”