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Edward M. Sweatt and Carolyn H. Swiatt- JPubttshers
Edward M. Sweatt Editor
? Managing Editor
uoug Huner Sports Editor
Erie Carlson Staff Writer
Mary Potts & Peggy Earwood ? ? Office Managers
Carolyn H. Sweatt Advertising Director
Ttmberiey Adams, Cccella Gore
and Linda Cheers j\dverttsing Representatives
Dorothy Brennan and Brenda Claxunons Moor* . .Graphic Artists
t\ ius?ui i ivitiDnin^
Lonnle Sprinkle Assistant Pressman
PAGE 4-A. THURSDAY, JUNE 30. 1994
Open Meetings Law
"...and now we'll be going into executive session to discuss
legal and personnel matters." It's not a familiar phrase to every
one, but if you're a reporter or a local government watchdog,
you've heard it plenty and know what it really means.
Executive session ? a closed or secret portion of a meeting ?
is the favorite hiding place of public officials who need a legal
way to avoid doing business in full view of the people. Such ses
sions usually take place at the end of the official agenda, when
constituents and even reporters are more likely to bail out than
wait it out. In the smallest towns that can mean council stays in
chambers while the audience waits outside in the dark ? literally
as well figuratively.
It looks as if the hiding place is going to get a lot narrower.
The state House and Senate, at the urging of the N.C. Press
Association, are considering their most extensive rewrite ever of
the state Open Meetings Law. These are just a few of the im
provements awaiting final House and Senate approval:
? Appointed bodies are public bodies. This wasn't clear un
der current law.
? The term "executive session" is replaced by "closed ses
? Minutes are required for closed sessions.
? Public bodies may not meet in closed session to discuss the
competence, character, fitness, appointment performance, re
moval or replacement of one of its own members.
? Attorney-client privilege will be narrower. The new law
says that just because an attorney is present doesn't allow the
public body to claim an exemption from the Open Meetings Law.
? Public bodies must cite the specific statutory authority
when making a motion to go into closed session. This means that
public bodies must know the Open Meetings Law a little better.
They can't just make the usual nebulous motion: "We're going
into closed session to talk about personnel or legal matters."
These are substantial improvements which will serve not just
the press but everyone who disdains subterfuge and believes pub
lic officials should be subject to the most stringent standards of*
is Public Relations What
The Schools Really Need?
One of the solutions proposed for addressing the often negative percep
tions of the school system revealed in
a recent survey by the South port -Oak
Isiand Chamber of Commerce is hir
ing a "good public relations person"
for the schools.
Hiring someone to promote a fa
vorable relationship with the public
might help in calling attention to the
good things that happen every day in
the schools and are taken for granted
because good things are supposed to
happen in schools. A good public relations officer can even help turn
around attitudes within an organization. But I tend to believe this is another
example of throwing money at a problem.
Also, I'm not convinced this is the best way to use the school system's
limited resources. I think it can be spent better in other ways and there's al
so a good chance that person's effectiveness would be undermined or
negated by others in the school system.
Reputations, good and bad, are earned, at least in part. Ask the folk:, at
Carolina Power & Light Co. Perceptions, however faulty, are based on at
least a kernel or two of reality. Even the best, most expensive public rela
tions person can only do so much "damage control."
It would be far better if the schools follow CP&L's suit and committed
itself to fixing "root causes," to borrow a phrase from the U.S. Nuclear
Regulatory Commission, instead of diverting attention from problems or
jerry-rigging what the nuclear industry calls work-arounds ? that's when
you expend time and energy on makeshift substitutes instead of taking time
to fix something.
Some overhauls require big bucks, but for others all that's required is a
change of attitude.
The survey noted that 66 percent of the terpondents receive some of
their information about the schools from newspapers and 42 percent, from
radio and TV. But they rely to a much greater degree on word-of-mouth
sources: 81.4 percent on students; 70 percent, parents; and 52.6 percent,
Have you ever thought about how much damage to a school's or school
system's reputation one sorry teacher can do? One inept administrator? A
school board that can't reach a consensus on important issues or undercuts
its own administration? Or what may be the ultimate weapon ? one angry
or frustrated pa?-:nt?
It's extremely important that the school system respond quickly and re
sponsibly to any concern brought to its attention by a customer ? any par
ent, student or other citizen, from the points of view of both education and
Public relations must be every person's responsibility. This is some
thing all of us who deal with people on a day to day basis need to remem
I have as much trouble being consistently responsive as the next person.
Catch me on a bad day or in a hectic moment, and the first impression
that's created could be one I would rather not have made It may not be en
tirely accurate, but it will travel with me. and the company I work for, for a
long time. Same goes for the school system. Remember the story of the
blindfolded men and the elephant?
This idea of responsiveness doesn't mean a school official has to auto
matically agree that the aggrieved party is right about something, but then it
shouldn't launch an automatic barrage in self-defense of the school system
It does mean that that school person should listen and listen well. The
concerned party ideatiy should come away trom the encounter with a sense
that what he or she had to say mattered, that it was heard and understood,
and that it will be looked into objectively and responded to appropriately.
And they shouldn't have to wait long for an answer, whether or not it's
what they wanted to hear. And if a problem exists that can be fixed, it
should be fixed.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Grandmother Protests Officer's Behavior
To the editor:
My 18-vcar-old grandson recently
received a speeding ticket while vis
iting on Holden Beach. It was his
first traffic violation and, of course,
it very upsetting, spoiling a pleasant
graduation celebration at the beach.
This young man has been coming
to Holden Beach since he was a ba
by. He does not smoke, drink or use
drugs. He is an honor student and
plans to attend Duke University in
the fall. He is not a problem teenag
He readily admitted that he m?de
a mistake and deserved the ticket.
However, he stated that the police
man who charged him was very rude
and arrogant and that he used angry
I feel very strongly that our public
servants should set a better example
for our young people. We want them
to respect, rather than dislike, the
law enforcement agents.
As a homeowner and taxpayer on
Holden Beach for nearly 20 years, I
would like to suggest that the Town
of Holden Beach offer a course in
public relations or search for more
capable and dignified police offi
To the editor:
Bravo and congratulations to Eric
Carlson for his column of June 16. It
is high time that we the citizens
band together and attempt to put a
stop to the government's interfer
ence in our private lives.
! plan to continue to ride my bicy
cle "sans" helmet. It Ls my privilege.
To the editor:
Many of the idols of today's soci
ety are cast in bronze and carved of
stnne and. as in the days of vore.
their feet are made of clay and easily
toppled by their own foibles.
The tragedy of O.J. Simpson is a
moot point. The celebrity worship of
our younger generation, if directed
to their parents, teachers and pastors
instead of athletes, rock stars and
movie stars, would enable them to
adhere more closely to moral princi
ples and lead a worthwhile and ful
John F. Ziefel
One Hot Dog
To the editor:
A couple of Sundays ago I went
to Briarcliff Mall. ...On my way to
the entrance I heard a little dog cry
ing. I thought surely no one left a
dog in a car in this heat. Folks, it
was hot, hot that day.
I searched the parking area until I
found him. There was the most
beautiful little black dog 1 had ever
seen. He was on the front floor
board trying to get in a shaded area.
He was crying and panting some
thing awful. The window was down
just enough to get my finger in. He
got on the seat and licked my finger.
I tried so hard to get him some
help. I waited and prayed that his
owner would hurry out.
I would like for (the owner) to put
on a fur coat, get in a car on a hot
day with the windows down half an
inch and sit there for just a few min
utes and suffer just like your beauti
ful animal did.
I had to wait in my car the other
day for about 30 minutes on a hot
day. but I had all my windows
down. 1 just don't want to think
about what that beautiful little ani
mal must have suffered.
I used to have a dog that loved to
ride also, but I never took her with
me to a place that she could not go
Please leave your precious animal
at home next time you go shopping.
Rude To Grads
To the editor:
The West Brunswick High School
graduation was the worst I have ever
attended. I could not believe how
rude the audience was. As each stu
dent's name was announced, the
families and friends of the student
who had just received their diploma
got up and began leaving their seats
in the bleachers, causing a constant
stream of people going down the
It sounded like a herd of cattle. It
was almost impossible to hear the
next student's name. There was ab
solutely no respect for the graduates.
I'm sure there were other guests
there that could not believe how in
considerate this was to the students
who had not received their diplo
It is occasions such as this that get
the southern region known as red
necks. Being a native of this area, I
am very embarrassed that the stu
dents were much better behaved
than the audience. I sincerely hope
that in future years the students will
instruct the audience to show the
same respect for the last graduate as
they did for the first.
I suggest that on such occasions
where large groups of people are
gathered, the audience remain in
their seats until the graduating class
has exited the field.
We welcome your letters to the
editor. Letters must include your
address and telephone number.
(This information is for verifica
tion put poses only; we will not
publish your street/mailing ad
dress or poooc number.) Letters
must be typed or written legibly.
Auurcss letters io: Tor
Brunswick Beacon, P.O. Box
2558, ShaflotteNC 28459
Anonymous letters will nut be
tvv ' "
Court Fight Should Be Welcomed, Not Feared
The die is cast.
? Julius Caesar, as he marched
his army across the Rubicon
River to seize power over the
Lei's do it.
? Condemned murderer Gary
Gilmore, moments before his
execution in a Utah electric chair.
? ? ?
Somebody else once said, "Be
careful what you wish for. You
might get it."
All of which reminds me of the
ongoing conflict over school fund
ing that seems to be headed for a le
gal battle between the Brunswick
County Board of Commissioners
and the Brunswick County Board of
For the second time in as many
years, the school board has submit
ted a budget request that seeks spen
ding levels far above what the com
missioners feel inclined to approve.
This time the chasm between them
measures about $4 million.
Last summer, the two boards
stood their ground during the pre
liminary stages of a process that
could have led to the funding ques
tion being decided in civil superior
court. Just short of that final solu
tion. both sides blinked and agreed
to accept a mediated settlement in
which the county paid the schools
another half million dollars.
Politics has altered the complex
ion of this year's fight. All ten seats
on the two boards are up for grabs in
the coming election.
All five commissioners survived
the primaries. Like high-school grad
uates with brand new convertibles,
they are confidently cruising toward
November with their tops down, en
joying the ride and hoping to run on a
record of not raising taxes.
In contrast, the school board is
multi-car pile-up. One member
pulled out of the race to protest
board policies. TWo other incum
bents were defeated in the primaries.
The chairman withdrew her candi
dacy after 40 percent of the county's
voters cast their ballots for her polit
ical opponent, who had been dead
Still, we can ev ect to see a
championship bout between these
lame ducks (who have nothing to
lose by demanding more money)
against the endorsed incumbents
(who have everything to gain by
standing firm on taxes).
It's a classic case of an unstop
pable force speeding toward an im
movable object. The collision will
not be a pretty sight.
I say bring it on. The die is cast.
Let's do it. Let's drag this smelly,
mildew-ridden old blanket into the
sunshine and air it out.
Everyone has opinions about edu
cation in Brunswick County. We all
seem to believe that our students
aren't learning as much as they
should. But hardly anyone agrees on
Is it the quality of teachers?
Should they be paid more? Should
they be required to meet stricter per
formance standards? Would students
do better with improved facilities
and equipment? Or is too much of
our tax money spent on school ad
ministration? Are there too many
chiefs and not enough Indians?
These questions have been argued
to death for years. Every budget
season turns into a battle, with both
sides sniping at each other and lob
bing charges and countercharges
back and forth between Bolivia and
The voters are left scratching their
heads and wondering who's right,
while another class of academically
undernourished young graduates
ventures out into the real world.
Now there's talk of paying the
state to audit school spending, which
will merely give both sides another
batch of figures to argue about.
The people of this county deserve
more. They deserve an understand
able public accounting of how their
tax money is spent on education and
why that spending is not producing
So let's forget the audit and go to
court. Let each side make its best
case in plain language that a dozen
tax paying Brunswick Countians can
understand. Let the jury of 12 listen
to all the evidence and decide how
much of their (and our) tax money
should be invested in the next gener
This would forever change the
budget dialog between the commis
sioners and the school board.
Instead of the annual dog-and
pony show of school officials blam
ing all education woes on deficient
funding, there would be a transcript
of swom testimony from teachers
and principals explaining their needs
and their vision of what education is
and could be in this county.
Instead of the traditional bloated -
administration accusations by the
commissioners, we would all get a
full accounting of every job descrip
tion in the school offices, with the
organizational structure chartcd so
that everyone could decide tor them
selves where the waste and needs
Who knows what might happen?
The jury could determine that our
school system cannot do its job
without several new buildings, tons
of educational materials, higher
salaries for teachers and a major re
duction in class sizes.
Those 12 regular folks could de
cide the needs are so great that the
county should pay Ute school system
another S10 million immediately,
even though it would add a nickel to
their tax rate.
Or the jury could review all the
evidence and say that the schools
have plenty of money, but they
aren't spending it in the right places.
They could recommend eliminating
positions in the school administra
tive offlccs ssd suggest strict perfor
mance standards for all teachers.
Their recommendations might not
be legally binding, but no elected
board member who wanted to stay
in office would dare vote for a bud
get that didn't incorporate those
It's time to stop this annual spit
ting contest between the county and
the schools. Let's put the question
before 1 2 randomly selected citizens
who have been questioned by
lawyers on both sides to determine
their objectivity. Let them hear the
evidence and decide.
If they say we need a tax increase
to improve education, we will just
have to pay it. If the schools are told
to make changes, they will simply
have to adjust. There won't be any
one to blame in November.
Bureaucracies ? such as county
governments and school systems ?
are like giant marshmallows. No
matter how hard you push on one
side, they just bulge out on the other.
No matter how much of a dent you
make, the surface comes right back
when the pressure is taken off. ,
To really find out what's at the
core of a marshmallow, you need to
stick it into a fire, burn off the sugar
coaling and take a good look inside.
Let's do it.