Response from public officials in the aftermath of the severe thunder- and windstorm that ravaged much of Logan County and caused catastrophic damage to the historic courthouse has been admirable.
Late Friday afternoon, straight-line winds in excess of 80 mph ripped a 10-by-10 foot hole in the roof of the courthouse and caused so much structural damage that a forensic structural analyst determined the clock tower risks total collapse.
Combating damage elsewhere, employees with the Logan County Engineer’s Office worked Friday evening well into Saturday to clear downed trees and debris from the road, but still found time to compact about 60 tons of limestone on the courthouse lawn into a ramp so that a bucket truck could patch the hole in the roof.
Shortly after noon Saturday, Logan County Commissioners John Bayliss, Tony Core and Dustin Wickersham met with insurance adjusters and engineers to determine the extent of the damage.
Upon learning the courthouse was uninhabitable, commissioners contacted their fellow elected officials and scheduled a 2 p.m. Sunday meeting at the Logan County Juvenile Detention Center to determine a course of action.
As far as I could tell, every single elected Logan County officeholder was present Sunday afternoon ready and willing to do whatever necessary to ensure a smooth transition through what is certain to be a trying time for the elected officials and the folks they represent.
This reporter was rightly made aware of the gathering Saturday by the county commissioners. Any time two or more commissioners congregate to discuss public business with the possibility that action may take place, the press must legally be notified.
Unfortunately, not all of the elected officials felt like the public had a right to all of the details concerning what was discussed. Legal minds in the room determined that insurance claims and the potential lease of temporary office space were grounds to meet behind closed doors.
It was argued that insurance companies would play an “adversarial role” and that public officials should have freedom to express an idea without worrying it would appear in the newspaper.
Addressing his fellow public servants, Logan County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark S. O’Connor said that while, “he had respect for the reporter in the room,” the meeting should be conducted in executive session.
An impasse lasted a few moments until Logan County Prosecutor William T. Goslee arrived and immediately concurred with Judge O’Connor that the meeting should be done in private.
He was ready to close the door immediately. So, after only a few minutes, close the door they did.
An agenda was clumsily concocted on the spot, and, with the help of a couple judges and the prosecutor, the commission voted to enter into executive session, citing insurance discussions and the possibility of temporarily leasing space to house county offices.
Nevermind the fact that neither legal counsel for the county’s insurance cooperative nor a potential landlord was present and that it goes without saying this closed-door conversation focused on much broader subjects than insurance claims.
Temporary locations for county offices were all determined inside the executive session. In retrospect, I should have stuck around and asked to be made aware when the politicians were done discussing money, contracts and insurance claims.
I think it’s fair to say that Judge O’Connor and Prosecutor Goslee would have taken steps to ensure the public wasn’t privy to all the goings on Sunday, either. Go figure, a group of elected public servants gather to discuss repairing a publicly funded building, and the public isn’t allowed inside.
I don’t wish to be alerted to these kinds of public meetings only because my intention is to dish dirt about every single thing that’s said or implied, but because the taxpayers have a right to know — in real time — about how those they elect are responding in times of crises.
See, Mister and Miss Taxpayer didn’t have time to show up Sunday at the JDC. Their power was still out; or they were helping neighbors clear debris from a downed tree.
I consider it my responsibility to provide a detailed and accurate account of what occurred during that meeting so the public doesn’t have to show up — they can read the reporting in this newspaper and know that they’re getting a thorough account of what happened.
Likewise, public servants should want the press in the room. News of the severe damage to the courthouse was met with incredible uncertainty about how the county would operate in the interim.
What a shame that discussions about repairing a public building and conducting the people’s business was done behind a closed door.
Government has a responsibility to act quickly and decisively in times of distress. Public servants in this case met that responsibility, as evidenced by their quick response and attendance at Sunday’s meeting, but they are also obligated to afford the public a look at specifically how they planned to respond to this catastrophe and their rationale for those decisions.
The courthouse belongs not to the judges, or the prosecutor or the clerks of courts, but to the people. And we have a right to be present. When in doubt, keep the door open.
Nate Smith is an Examiner Staff Writer who believes an effective government is a transparent government. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.