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Rehoboth: Keep public in public service

February 26, 2019

Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns recently appointed a committee to review sewer rates and report to him so he could inform the other commissioners what the committee found.

Kuhns also decided his handpicked committee would meet in secret, with the sessions not open to the public.

Fellow commissioners, a former commissioner and former mayor, citizens and the Cape Gazette all questioned why this committee’s meetings were not public.

A citizen complaint to the Attorney General’s Office brought a quick reversal; the opinion states the committee is a public body and as numerous other officials and citizens agreed, its meetings must be held in public.

That issue is now resolved, yet questions linger. Just weeks earlier, the Cape Gazette had objected to an executive session where county officials unveiled a proposal initiated by Kuhns to take over city sewer service.  In that case, the discussion that took place at the closed meeting was later summarized in public. But only days later, in responding to the Freedom of Information Act complaint, the solicitor was again defending the mayor’s decision for a committee to meet in secret to discuss city business.

Is it the solicitor’s job to defend controversial decisions of the city’s top officials, especially when other council members object?

We understand the need to protect city officials from lawsuits, but we hope the city solicitor’s job is to protect the public’s interests. When officials in any of our municipalities make decisions that appear to be outside the bounds of established public policy, it should not be the job of the solicitor to find a justification.

Secret meetings by definition raise questions and fray public confidence in their government. The solicitor’s job must include educating officials so they understand and uphold the requirements of serving the public.

And among the first of those requirements must be to conduct public business, with limited exceptions, in public with honesty and candor.

 

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, publisher, and Laura Ritter, news editor, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.