I am writing with concerns about the stance taken by the editorial staff of the Steamboat Pilot & Today and the Hayden Valley Press regarding the "renaming" of executive sessions at official public meetings to "secret" sessions. My concerns (and those of the Hayden School District Board of Education) are based upon the following:
I am concerned with the adding of the word "secret" to our agenda. The information printed in the articles of the area newspapers is the decision of the editorial staff. You are entitled to state your opinions or perspectives regarding the items on our agenda. However, when we, in good faith, send our monthly agenda to be published for the public, I believe it is the public's right and expectation that it be published as submitted.
If this item is changed, where is the line drawn on what other items the editors may take the liberty of changing?
Why "secret" session? When questioned, the editor stated that the terms "private" or "closed" had also been considered. The editorial staff deliberately chose the term "secret" and the implied negative connotation associated with this language. My preference in newspaper reporting would be an attitude of accentuating the positive, or at a minimum remaining neutral in reporting public meetings, rather than intentionally casting a negative slant to the story. This should be news reporting, unless it is on the editorial page.
Our school board works very hard to limit executive session discussions to those items authorized by Colorado law, with no decisions or votes taking place. It is quite typical to have personnel, student, or negotiation issues on which, after personally being in executive session with the board, I still have no idea on how the vote will come out. If the opinion of the editorial staff is that we are abusing the statute, then investigate and call us on it.
Why rename it with a word that has negative connotations so that the public will automatically assume that inappropriate discussions are occurring?
We are fortunate to have a strong, high-functioning school board volunteering to serve the Hayden School District. We have been working diligently for the past two and a half years to build trusting relationships between the school board, administration, teachers, students and parents. After 30 years in education it still amazes me how quickly this trust can be eroded.
The implication of wrongdoing that appears to be the motivation for the editors changing the name to "secret" session disturbs me, and further, works to erode the relationship of trust we are working to build. We would greatly prefer that the public judge us according to our actions, for that is something that we can control, defend, and rectify, if necessary. The shadowy insinuation such wording brings to mind is considerably more difficult to combat.
Superintendent, Hayden Schools