by Max Brantley
The state Highway Commission began an executive session yesterday that continues through today and, from the distant seat where I sit, it would appear they haven't convened wholly legally.
A spokesman said the group went into executive session to discuss pay for the new agency director, Scott Bennett, and unspecified other matters. The FOI law is quite clear that a public board must announce a reason for an executive session and the reasons allowed are very specific — "considering employment, appointment, promotion, demotion, disciplining or resignation of any public officer or employee. The specific purpose of the executive session shall be announced in public before going into executive session."
I have reason to believe that the Commission might be discussing the huge mess uncovered by Legislative Audit — regular paid time off granted employees in the agency's legal division headed by chief counsel Robert Wilson outside agency work rules. I don't think the commission can have a general discussion on that practice or the audit findings, though it could decide, for example, whether to take action against an employee who'd approved extralegal practices.
I've filed an objection by e-mail to a meeting held for undisclosed purposes.
UPDATE: The Commission returned to public session toward the end of the noon hour. Developments:
* The Commission said Bennett would be paid $154,960 when he officially succeeds Dan Flowers Sept. 22. He's now acting director. Flowers made $157,430.
* Commission Chairman Madison Murphy announced that the commission had a discussion of "an employment matter related to a specific employee" but took no action. Perhaps on Sept. 9, when the Highway and Transportation Department has a date with Legislative Audit over the personal leave policy, we'll hear more about how the agency will respond to a finding of years of improper paid time-off practices.