A confidentiality clause in an oath administered to members of public-access channel URTV’s board at their last meeting has sparked criticism—and the county attorney’s office is looking into whether the vow is in line with the state’s open-meetings law.
The oath reads:
“I, the undersigned board member of URTV, do solemnly swear or affirm that I will, so far as the duty devolves on me, diligently and honestly oversee the affairs of URTV in a sound and businesslike manner; that I will not allow my actions as a member of this board to be influenced by personal or political friendships or obligations; that I will familiarize myself with the bylaws of URTV; that I will not knowingly violate or willingly permit to be violated any of the provisions in the bylaws; that I will keep confidential all the affairs of URTV, except to other members of this board in good standing or URTV staff, as necessary to the conduct of my duties.”
That last part, however, didn’t sit well with board member Richard Bernier.
“I’m profoundly angered by this type of oath being required for a member of a board that should set an example of transparency,” Bernier told Xpress. “I found it odd when it was presented to us. We weren’t really told much about why it was needed or where it was coming from.”
URTV receives money known as PEG funds, which are collected in the form of fees from cable subscribers in Asheville and Buncombe County. Although the money doesn’t come directly out of the city and county coffers, both the Asheville City Council and the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners make appointments to the nine-member board. In January 2007, Asheville City Council amended the nonprofit channel’s management agreement to require its board to abide by North Carolina’s open-meetings law.
URTV Executive Director Pat Garlinghouse says the oath is just a formality and that while it says “all affairs of URTV,” the clause applies only to such matters as personnel or property acquisition, which public bodies can legally address in closed session.
“This is just to protect URTV,” Garlinghouse told Xpress. “It’s absolutely standard practice for a board to have a formal induction. We hadn’t been doing that. URTV does fall under open-meetings law, and we’ve been following that.”
Asked why the oath says “all affairs” if it actually refers only to those brought up in closed session, Garlinghouse replied: “The wording was just taken from a standard oath. This is just routine; this is not a story.”
But Bernier isn’t the only one concerned about the clause. Board of Commissioners Chair David Gantt, an attorney by profession, said that part of the oath “looks a little suspect to me,” adding that he’s directed the county attorney’s office to look into whether or not it conforms to open meetings law.
“It doesn’t sound like any oath—or the kind of transparency—we usually have,” Gantt told Xpress. “I understand that there are some decisions—like staff matters or property acquisition—that need to be in closed session, but we want our boards to be transparent. I hope it [the clause] was an accident.”