December 7, 2023

Grand Forks TV

video for Grand Forks BC

Why Elected Public Officials’ meetings NEED to be Public

Is it ever okay for elected officials to discuss assassinating journalists and lynching black people?

I used to broadcast / webcast the local city council meetings in our town, Grand Forks, B.C. Did that for 14 years, over 400 meetings.

One of the last concerns I brought before council (see this Nov 25, 2019 post) was the problem I saw in having 5 of the 7 members sitting in council also being members of a private social network group, one whose main reason to exist was to agitate levels of government to get things changed to their liking. They, the councilors. had not started the group but were members of it.

What concerned me was any ‘discussion’ that they all might be involved in, within that group, that involved matters coming before city council would constitute an private meeting of council – one that most of the actual voters would not be able to watch or hear or participate in.

Last night I heard a story along these lines that many might find hard to believe in this day and age. About a private meeting by public officials out of the public eyes and ears.

A story of how a sheriff and other elected officials discussed the option of assassinating the publisher and reporter for the local newspaper in their town. Hiring hitmen and burying the bodies. Lamenting that lynching is no longer an option . . .

How do we know this?

We know because the local reporter suspected that the county commissioners were discussing county business after the official meeting had ended – essentially doing county business out of the visibility of those who elected them – which is a no-no in many places. Like I wondered about with our council and this private social network group.

In Oklahoma they have an Open Meeting Act which ‘Requires that meetings of state and local boards, commissions, and other bodies must be open to the public and that all meetings must be conducted according to a posted agenda.’ The reporter suspected that this was being violated.

The place where this happened is Oklahoma. McCurtain is the name of the county (pop nearly 31,000) and the town (pop 355).

The governor of the state is seeking the resignations of County Sheriff Kevin Clardy, sheriff’s Capt. Alicia Manning, District 2 Commissioner Mark Jennings and Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix

No picture of the Jail Administrator Larry Hendrix could be found . . .

From the Associated Press (Oklahoma gov calls on officials to resign after ‘hanging’ and racist remarks on tape | AP News)

The McCurtain Gazette-News released portions of an audio recording following a March 6 county commission meeting in which Clardy, Manning and Jennings appear to discuss reporters Bruce and Chris Willingham. Jennings tells Clardy and Manning “I know where two deep holes are dug if you ever need them,” and the sheriff responded, “I’ve got an excavator.”

Jennings also said he’s known “two or three hit men” in Louisiana, adding “they’re very quiet guys.”

In the recording, Jennings also appears to complain about not being able to hang Black people, saying: “They got more rights than we got.”

What did the newspaper do that so angered these officials?

Also from the same AP article: (Bruce Willingham is the publisher)

Bruce Willingham said he believes the local officials were upset about “stories we’ve run that cast the sheriff’s office in an unfavorable light,” including the death of Bobby Barrick, a Broken Bow, Oklahoma, man who died at a hospital in March 2022 after McCurtain County deputies shot him with a stun gun. The newspaper has filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office seeking body camera footage and other records connected to Barrick’s death.

As of this point in time the audio recordings are still being analyzed by the FBI. If they are not found to be faked this will likely rip the local community into segments polarized along racist lines. The likelihood that a small town print-only newspaper would have the resources to engineer this recorded conversation may not be out of the realm of possibility but it is quite small.

I suspect that these officials won’t find any support from any other elected officials – no one wants to be seen to be taking the side of racists discussing the murder of journalists and wishing they could lynch black people again. But the current crop of Republican elected officials shows you can’t always depend on people having morals, brains or courage so the whole thing may yet balloon out of McCurtain county into the USA in large.

Thankfully we don’t have the kind of social and crime issues and history that could result in this kind of thinking. I hope.

But it says something about the attitudes of those who get into positions of power. And the way they look at others in their community. Like they deserve their station in life and the power they have means they can entertain simply disposing of problem people instead of dealing with the real problems.

Relying on the better natures of humans who are in positions of power and facing tough decisions appears to be asking for trouble. Or turning a blind eye to the problem.

I can almost hear someone saying you get the government you elect. And the government you get reflects your wants and desires. That may be true in a perfect world, a perfect democratic system. But the USA is definitely not perfect and their democratic apparatus contains obvious undemocratic aspects such as gerrymandering. And that means I cannot say if the demographic mix of the population is really reflected in the political makeup of the local government. The political machines of the major parties tend to act as filters and checks on the ‘will of the people’.

Remember that every weird rule or regulation was created to fix some problem or close some loophole. When officials complain the regs are too onerous they are also saying they don’t want to comply. And if your elected officials do not comply eventually you, the taxpayer, will pay the bill for their bad behaviours.

And when your elected officials attack the press you should really worry about who you have elected because that’s a strong indicator that they don’t want you to know what they are up to.

As one failed journalist wannabe I wish the Williinghams and the McCurtain Gazette-News all the best. I’ve not been clear (even in my own head) why I’ve chosen to keep this website alive even though I’m not reporting on much of anything these days but when I hear stories like this I like that I have a journalistic site to comment from.

Now if I could only find people to help out that I can trust who also see the value in local journalism . . . (not needing to make a living off it kinda complicates things)

– Les Johnson