Included with this editorial, you will find a summary of Mississippi’s Open Meetings and Public Records Laws, as provided by the office of state Attorney General Jim Hood. These laws are often referred to as “Sunshine Laws.”
We hope citizens will use this guide to learn about and understand what the laws guarantee them regarding public boards, the meetings those boards conduct and the records they keep. Contrary to popular belief, these laws are not just written for the benefit of the press, but are also for use by the people. Anyone can ask for a public record.
More importantly, we hope those who serve on public boards in Grenada will also use the guide to know and understand that they are operating on the public’s behalf, and that – in most cases — their meetings and records should be open to the citizens.
The publication of this summary is prompted by controversy surrounding the Grenada Tourism Commission since Sandy Smith was dismissed as executive director in December. A group of
supporters has rallied to have Smith returned to the job. Questions have been raised to the GrenadaStar about the legality of the firing, how the board operates its meetings, how board members are appointed and how tax money is spent. We hope to address those issues in coming weeks.
To start, here is some background information on the Grenada Tourism Commission: A tourism board has been in place since 1992 when the Mississippi Legislature approved a 2% tax on the gross proceeds of sales from room rentals of hotels and motels and a 1% tax on the gross receipts of restaurants and bars from retail sales of prepared food, beer and alcoholic beverages. Customers pay this in addition to the regular state sales tax. The plan by Grenada city officials at that time was to build a civic center. Millions of dollars have been collected from the tax in the years since it was created. Half of this money goes city hall for a civic center fund, and half goes to the Tourism Commission.
The GrenadaStar recently filed several Freedom of Information requests with the tourism board, and we were disappointed at the results. Minutes of the meetings could be described as “incomplete” at best. Despite what Mississippi law requires, votes were not recorded by individual members. Action is only recorded as “all approved” or “motion passed.” (Please see the “Minutes” and “Executive Session” sections of the AG’s summary.)
Proper procedure, as reflected in the minutes, is also not being followed on initiating and conducting executive sessions. We also found it troubling when we were initially told that minutes of executive sessions were not recorded, yet they were provided after a Freedom of Information request was filed.
What we are publishing today should not be considered a slap at the volunteers who serve on the tourism board. They work hard to make Grenada a better place. It is an effort to make them (and members of other public boards and citizens) aware of the laws they are obligated to follow.
Grenada is known as “The City That Smiles.” It would be great if it were also known as Mississippi’s “Sunshine City.”