I'll give a big thumbs up to the town-gown relations committee Chapel Hill Mayor Rosemary Waldorf and Chancellor James Moeser announced Oct. 19, but I'll use another finger to express my feelings about the committee's decision to close its meetings.
Let's forget all the arguments about the public's right to know for a minute - although they are valid arguments. The decision is quite possibly illegal.
North Carolina has an Open Meetings Law. That means, coincidentally, that governmental meetings must be open. That means the town-gown relations decision to close its meetings is illegal unless members can prove it meets one of the law's conditions for closing meetings.
Council and committee member Kevin Foy defended the legality of the decision and told The Daily Tar Heel, "This is not a committee that has any authority to make any binding decision on the town."
As a lawyer, Foy should know that, under North Carolina's Open Meetings Law, this argument won't cut it.
Under that law, it is illegal for any public body - and the town council is certainly a public body - or a committee of a public body to close its meetings. Even if the committee has only an advisory function, it is still a public body under N.C. law.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Ruth Walden, a media law professor in the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, agrees with me. She told the DTH she thinks the meetings would need to be open legally.
It's not as though a public body can't close a meeting under any circumstances. But the town-gown relations committee doesn't seem to meet any of the conditions for closing a meeting.
The committee is not addressing specific personnel or employee issues or deciding whether to honor someone. The committee meetings won't involve attorney-client privilege, or if they do, only those portions of the meetings should be closed. It's not dealing with employment contracts, confidential or privileged information or criminal misconduct.