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12 23Fri11282014

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Back Local News ‘Secret’ meeting bill bashed

‘Secret’ meeting bill bashed

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A FORMER lawmaker yesterday criticized a measure that proposes to allow the Civil Service Commission to conduct deliberations on certain civil service cases behind closed doors.

Former Republican Sen. Robert Klitzkie, during yesterday’s public hearing on Bill 102, quoted the following during his testimony: “The Civil Service Commission cannot, must not, should not be allowed to contravene the expressed intent of the Open Government Law.”

The words, Klitzkie said, came from a decision authored by former judge and now Vice Speaker Benjamin J.F. Cruz in a decision rendered in December 1984 pertaining to the Open Government Law.

Vice Speaker Cruz is the sponsor of Bill 102.

“One of the things that pop in my mind when I read the bill is, 'What is the problem? We have been doing this for 30 years?' We haven’t had any problems. As a matter of fact, I would submit that it has worked pretty well,” Klitzkie said.

He added that the Legislature has consistently strengthened the Open Government Law during the last three decades.

“We’ve made it better and we’ve made it stronger over the years. But I’ve never seen a senator say we’ve got to restrict the Open Government Law now because the public is finding out too much,” Klitzkie said.

“The question that occurs to me when we are talking about this sneaky, secret deliberation in a public body is: Who is trying to hide what and from whom are they trying to hide it? If we are trying to do these things, we should do it in the open so that everyone can understand what’s going on."

Public safety

But the Civil Service Commission cited public safety as a reason for Bill 102, which amends portions of the current law relating to the meetings of the commission.

In particular, the bill proposes that meetings of the commission shall be conducted in accordance with the Open Government Law except that any and all deliberations may occur in a closed session and no transcript of such deliberation need be maintained, nor shall the commission be required to record such deliberation.

When conducting such closed deliberations, according to the bill, only members of the CSC board, along with the commission’s counsel and its executive director, may be present.

CSC commissioners, in accordance with the Open Government Law, currently deliberate publicly, according to CSC Director Tony Lamorena, a former senator.

Private deliberation, Lamorena said, will lend itself to improving the safety and security of the commissioners who will be free to discuss their views without fear that what is said is misconstrued and used as a motivator for parties or members of the public to harbor feelings of distress with the process.

As a body with a quasi-judicial function, the CSC handles cases involving decisions to demote, suspend or terminate classified employees, among other personnel issues which are sensitive in nature.

As such, Lamorena said members of the CSC should be free to engage in rigorous debate and to express their respective opinions so that all aspects of any particular decision may be weighed.

“[The] Open Government Law was instituted 30 years ago but we didn’t have to worry about our little children being kidnapped, we didn’t worry about workforce violence. ... I have had board members followed to their vehicles after a hearing – I wait in the parking lot after every hearing for all of my staff and commissioners to drive away before I leave,” he said.

He added: “We’ve had family members scream and shout and threaten our commissioners. And rightly so because we are dealing with their livelihood, with their jobs and with their capacity to feed their children, and their family.”

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