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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Sunshine will clear the air

All the noise over the Hendersonville City Council's procedure for going into a closed meeting has missed the greater point of whether the discussion should have been outside public view to start with.

As the Hendersonville Lightning reported first, in our Sept. 11 issue, the council held the closed session to discuss the financing of the project that brought water to the Brightwater subdivision. When it emerged from the closed-door session, the City Council voted unanimously to transfer $249,082 from the city's utility reserves to pay down the Brightwater loan, effectively lowering Brightwater customers' bills from $25.38 to $16.77 a month on average.
It's a significant break for ratepayers, and one that council members hoped would put to rest the ongoing friction over Brightwater's share of a water system debt. Brightwater Homeowners Association officials in the past have praised the city for extending the water line and working with the homeowners on financing the $1.4 million project, paid for with a combination of grants and loans that both the city and Brightwater obtained.
We would not blame council members for thinking that no good deed goes unpunished.
For two years Brightwater resident Donald Goldstein has insisted, whenever he had the floor and sometimes when he didn't, that the water bills were unfair and that the city should have taken on a greater share of the loan debt without passing it on. By its action on Sept. 5 the council seems to have conceded Goldstein's point.
Mayoral candidate Steve Franks, a lawyer and retired District Court judge, says the City Council improperly called the closed meeting, which it did not, based on our own observation of the motion standing five feet away from the council table when the motion was made. Further, Franks says that the council should have announced upon going into a closed session when it would be back and what action it would be taking — both of which are unknowable when a board adjourns to go behind closed doors.
Franks' misinformed indictment of the council's process in closing the meeting undercuts the more important question of whether the council should have closed the meeting at all.
City attorney Sam Fritschner said the discussion met the exemption because Goldstein had threatened to sue. "It's a potential claim," he said.
We're in agreement with Judge Franks that a fuller airing of the Brightwater agreement would serve everyone, including the council. Who knows? Maybe Brightwater residents will fill the council chambers to praise the board for a reasonable, even generous, compromise that saves them $120 a year.
The point, in the combustible back-and-forth of a City Council campaign, is that openness and transparency are the best way to ensure that everyone understands what elected officials do with public money and why. If the whole Brightwater issue seems muddy now, then sunshine is the best disinfectant.