Do you think it’s right for a public board to hold a meeting — a meeting that’s open to the public and at which public business is discussed — that can’t be recorded?
No? Of course not? That’s just silly?
Try this one: Do you think it’s right for a court — maybe even the highest state court — to determine that a meeting of a public board wasn’t actually meeting if the board members listened and didn’t actually speak?
No again? That’s stupid? The craziest thing you’ve ever heard?
Well, I have bad news for you. And then even worse news.
Here’s just the bad news: Both of those things happened. The Public Service Commission had people removed from a very public meeting, at which a rate hearing was being conducted to determine whether or not customers of a regulated utility in this state should be forced to pay a fee for having solar panels.
Some folks were streaming that meeting so other citizens around the state might watch their government in action. Because, oddly, not everyone in the entire state of Alabama can take a day off work and drive to Montgomery to sit in a room and watch these meetings, but quite a few of those citizens would watch if provided the opportunity.
But there’s nothing in the law that says hearings have to be recorded — although, there’s certainly nothing in Alabama’s Open Meetings Act that prevents it — and the members of Alabama’s PSC — a group that was founded for the express intent of protecting the public’s interest and preventing utility companies that operate as monopolies from gouging Alabama citizens — wanted no part of this new-fangled technology known as video recording and internet broadcasting.
And they wanted no part of it because if the people of this state actually got a good solid look at what went on in Montgomery on a regular basis, they’d be mighty pissed.
So, the administrative law judge tossed the folks out who were recording that meeting, and then the PSC hired a bunch of lawyers and paid them with your tax dollars to defend their right to not show you what happens at the — and pay attention to this name here — PUBLIC SERVICE commission.
Now, such a spectacularly stupid argument — that it’s legal to block the public streaming of a public meeting called by a public board — could only be considered a legal conundrum in a one-party state. A state where you don’t need ethics or morals or basic common sense to win an election, just the backing of the right political party.
Because in such a state, where the judges are elected and their campaigns are funded by the deep pockets of corporations and big law firms, you end up with judges who do some of the most curious things. Things like attempting to redefine the word “deliberation.”
Because, you see, a meeting is defined as a “deliberation” between board members. And “deliberation” is defined in the Open Meetings Act as an exchange of ideas among board members meant to influence their vote.
Now, clearly, to every person with walking-around sense, such a definition means that a hearing at which experts testify on the validity and necessity of fees and rates should be deemed an open meeting under the Open Meetings Act, because the PSC members present were provided with information that directly affected their votes on a matter of public interest.
But not to the great legal minds who sit on Alabama’s Supreme Court. In an opinion written by a former employee at one of the big law firms, and using dueling dictionary definitions of the word “among” and leaning heavily on the absurd idea that simply being presented with information does not constitute an exchange of ideas, the ALSC ruled that the open meeting of the PSC wasn’t an open meeting at all because the PSC members never spoke.
The silliness of this should infuriate you.
The repercussions should make you even madder. Because the ALSC has just blown a hole in the Open Meetings Act, making it that much easier for public boards all across Alabama to keep secret how they’re spending — or misspending — your tax dollars.
Of course, there is something you can do about it, but that brings us to the worse news that I promised you earlier.
There is a way to put a stop to this nonsense. A way to make sure that we’re not getting screwed over as badly. A way to make certain our tax dollars are being properly doled out.
You have to hold politicians accountable.
You have to vote out people like Twinkle Cavanaugh and Chip Beeker and Jeremy Oden — the PSC commissioners who have failed you time and again on all sorts of issues. You have to actually pay attention to judicial races, and vote for the most qualified and fair judges.
But you won’t.
You’ll take the ballot and you’ll vote for the Republican. You’ll vote for the goobers who make insane promises on national issues that have no bearing at all on their office. You’ll vote for the people currently serving on the PSC and ALSC and in the Alabama Legislature.
And you’ll do it over and over again, never once holding them accountable for anything.
And then you’ll wonder why all of these silly, nonsensical things keep happening.