Recording closed sessions would bolster transparency

By Mike Anthony

The Mehlville Board of Education is scheduled to discuss board Secretary Rich Franz’s proposal that the board’s closed sessions be recorded when it meets tonight — Nov. 7.

The school board meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at Mehlville’s Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

Franz first raised the idea of recording closed sessions during the school board’s annual retreat in August, saying he believes such a policy will complement the increased transparency and accountability that Eric Knost has brought to the district during his tenure as superintendent.

Unfortunately, Franz’s proposal was met with the same consternation and hand-wringing that greeted a similar proposal in Crestwood more than a decade ago.

Perhaps most troubling was the comment made by board member Larry Felton when Franz’s proposal was discussed during the school board’s retreat.

“I know that this has been introduced several times in the state Legislature, and at some point in time this will become law. And when it’s law, I will be the first in line to adhere to it,” he said.

It’s disappointing that Felton appears content to be a follower instead of taking the initiative to help propel the Mehlville School District to further heights of transparency and accountability.

Crestwood aldermen were able to take that initiative, voting in March 2002 to approve a policy of recording their closed sessions involving litigation and real-estate matters.

Crestwood’s policy may be the only one of its kind in Missouri. No problems or legal challenges ever have resulted from it.

In fact, Crestwood’s policy was adopted nearly two years before the Illinois Verbatim Records Law went into effect.

Under the Illinois law, all governing bodies are required to make and maintain either audio or video recordings of all closed sessions.

We would urge school board members to review the Illinois Verbatim Records Law before tonight’s meeting because we believe it provides more-than-adequate safeguards to allay any fears they may have about adopting a similar policy.

Regardless of the board’s decision on Franz’s proposal, we believe he should be applauded for his efforts to increase transparency and accountability in the Mehlville School District.