Fiscal court’s new window is a small step toward openness

Published 6:31 am Friday, November 29, 2019

Sometimes, small things are worth noticing because they touch on much larger issues.

The Boyle County Fiscal Court recently made a small change to the room where it meets: It added a window to the entrance door. There’s also a new sign that gets put on the door during court meetings that welcomes people to enter and attend the public meeting.

These are small things, but they matter. Previously, the door was an unremarkable one opposite the county clerk’s office. It would often have a sign on it that said “meeting in progress,” and it is usually closed during meetings because of the noise that can filter across the hallway from people using the clerk’s office.

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In Kentucky, as in the rest of the nation, government meetings are open to the public and anyone can attend. We have government by the people, for the people. A closed door hardly follows that spirit.

The new window and sign make things much more transparent — literally. County leaders should be commended for making these small changes without much if any prodding from the public. It’s a good sign when government leaders are proactive about transparency, rather than reactive.

There are still much bigger problems with the current setup for fiscal court meetings, most notably that the meetings occur inside the secure Boyle County Courthouse and anyone wishing to attend must go through a security checkpoint first.

The checkpoint isn’t there for county government offices; it’s necessary for the district, circuit and family courts on the second and third floors. Unfortunately, the security doubles as a potential suppressor of attendance at the fiscal court’s open meetings.

While the new window sends the right message about open government, the courthouse checkpoint sends exactly the wrong message. People who don’t like going through security checkpoints — maybe they have a prior record, for example — are going to be less likely to attend fiscal court meetings.

That’s the problem: No one should feel nervous or like they’re being scrutinized for attending an open meeting of their elected officials.

In many other neighboring counties, fiscal court meetings are held in public spaces with no checkpoint in the way of attendance. The same goes for Danville City Commission, Junction City Council, Perryville City Council, Danville school board, Boyle County school board, Economic Development Partnership, Boyle County Fire Protection District board and Boyle County Public Library board meetings, among others right here in Boyle County.

A solution isn’t necessarily easy to come by. Boyle County has not received a new judicial center building that provides the courts a separate space from county government; many of our neighbors have just that.

But a solution isn’t impossible. And it could come with additional benefits: Many public meeting spaces outside of the courthouse feature larger spaces for audiences; better design that improves visibility and meeting flow; and better access to technology.

This fiscal court has already hinted at its dedication to transparency through the small step of adding a window to its meeting-room door. That made everything just a little more visible for those already inside the courthouse. It could continue down the path of transparency by next considering how to bring more visibility to those outside the courthouse, as well.