DA PANEL’S DECISION TO EXCLUDE THE PRESS AND THE PUBLIC FROM COUNCILLOR MYERS’ DISCIPLINARY HEARING IS A SERIOUS MISTAKE
The DA panel on Friday rejected our request to attend the disciplinary hearing of Ward 10 Councillor Peter Myers. Its ruling closes the proceedings not only to ratepayers, but to the press and all other members of the public as well. Those proceedings are now being held in secret.
The panel ruled that any public interest in the matter had to be weighed against the party’s requirement of confidentiality, as envisioned in the DA’s constitution, policies and rules and concluded that, as the hearing was an internal disciplinary process as opposed to an exercise of public power, the proceedings could not be deemed to be in the public interest.
The KRA’s request for an open hearing was therefore denied.
The panel’s strained, formalistic characterization of these proceedings as a purely internal party matter simply disregards the facts. This is a matter of enormous public interest in Knysna, which directly affects all residents in Councillor Myers’ ward, as well as ratepayers generally, since Myers is virtually certain to be removed from the DA if convicted, with the result that he will automatically lose his seat as a councillor. Given the highly public nature of the potential consequences, the public has a clear and controlling interest in witnessing these proceedings.
The panel, however, claims that this interest is outweighed by several other considerations:
1. Potential reputational damage to the party
2. Disclosure of internal party procedures to political opponents and critics
3. Unwillingness of fellow councillors to speak openly and frankly
1. If the party has acted honestly in charging Myers and if the proceedings are conducted fairly, then there is no risk of reputational damage to the party from holding public proceedings. Indeed, it is likely that by insisting that the proceedings be held in secret, the panel is doing far more damage to the party’s reputation than it could possibly suffer if the proceedings were open. People are quite likely to conclude that the party has something to hide. And what about the reputational damage that Myers himself has already suffered? An open hearing would afford the public an opportunity to make up their own minds about Myers’ reputation—an opportunity that he has now been denied.
2. Surely, most of the relevant internal party procedures are outlined in documents that have long been public knowledge. And in any event, it is not so much the disclosure of those procedures that could harm the party, rather, it is party members’ failure to abide by those procedures. Here again, people are likely to wonder why the party is working so diligently to keep the proceedings under wraps.
3. Doesn’t the public have a right to expect DA councillors to speak the truth in public, as well as in private? Unless they have reason to be ashamed of their testimony, why would councillors testify differently in public than in private?
The panel’s decision to hold the Myers disciplinary hearing in secret raises more questions than it answers. The KRA is extremely disappointed that the DA panel has ruled against the principles of openness and transparency that the DA so proudly espouses, and instead chosen to keep the press and public in the dark.