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According to a policy the Jackson County Board of Commissioners unanimously adopted at its March 5 meeting, minutes of closed sessions held by the board will be regularly reviewed by county staff and, when possible, released to the public.

Closed session policies were the focus of a recent Carolina Public Press investigation, which found that WNC’s county boards held more than 300 closed sessions last year, with about 75 percent of the written accounts of those meetings still sealed from the public.

In the course of CPP’s investigation, we surveyed 18 WNC counties about their closed session practices, including how often they met behind closed doors, for what reasons and how, if at all, they release minutes of those conversations.

Brian McMahan

At the March 5 public meeting, board chair Brian McMahan explained the genesis of Jackson County’s new policy.

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“We recently received an email from the Carolina Public Press asking a series of questions concerning Jackson County’s policies and procedures as far as handling public records requests for closed sessions minutes,” he said.

“As far as I know, we do not have a policy, and did not have one in place. And I felt like that was something that we needed to have in place, because from time to time there are requests that do come, and to make sure we handle requests in the appropriate manner.”

The goal, McMahan said, is for the “general public to have an opportunity to see what was discussed in closed session, once the issue that was in closed session has been decided … so that we can be transparent and allow the public to know what our discussions and deliberations were.”

The new policy can be read below.

Jackson County Closed Session Minutes Policy 2015 (PDF)
Jackson County Closed Session Minutes Policy 2015 (Text)

Detailed minutes from March 2014 closed meeting released

McMahan followed the vote on the new policy by announcing that the board had approved the release of detailed minutes from a closed session held on March 17, 2014.

At that session, the commissioners held an in-depth discussion of lawsuits involving the county and real estate, according to the minutes, which can be read below.

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Jackson County Closed Session Minutes 2014 (PDF)
Jackson County Closed Session Minutes 2014 (Text)Thanks to Quintin Ellison, with The Sylva Herald, for sharing a recording of the Jackson commissioners’ meeting.

Jon Elliston

Jon Elliston is the lead contributing open government reporter at Carolina Public Press. Contact him at jelliston@carolinapublicpress.org.

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