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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The press and some community members resent Building Commission's privacy

White defends his decision to hold many of his Building Commission meetings as closed sessions. He wanted to protect certain issues from public scrutiny, but also had an antagonistic relationship with the press, which allied itself with opponents of the museum project.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Thomas Jackson White Jr., March 14, 1986. Interview C-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

PAMELA DEAN:
One of the repeated charges, I understand, that some of your opponents made and the newspapers made, is that you held a lot of your commission meetings in closed session. Is that true and, if so, what was the reason for holding closed sessions?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Well, the best reason for holding a closed session is keeping newspaper people out of it. But I don't think we held closed sessions. Well, we held some closed sessions but we did it in accordance with the way the law provides that you may do it which is: there are certain things that you can consider in a closed session, of course, when these lovely newspaper people write things up they don't tell the public about this sort of thing, but if one of the things that you are going to consider is, for example, somebody's salary was going to be raised or some other kind of thing, all those things are set out in the statute itself. When it appears that a thing of that sort is to be considered, the procedure is for some member of the commission to say something like this: "Mr. Chairman, we need to consider so and so and so," whatever the thing is. "This is one of the things which we may consider in closed session. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, I move that the commission now resolve itself into executive session," or closed session. And that motion has to be seconded and it has to be voted on by the commission. Alright, let's assume that the motion carries and, when it does, the chairman announces to everybody that's present, "The commission has just voted to go into executive session. It's been nice to have you people with us and we are now going into executive session so we now invite everyone who is not a member of the commission to leave. We think this will take approximately so many minutes. When we are finished dealing with this, the closed session will be adjourned, the open session will be reconvened and you are welcome to come back." This is the way it works. But the newspapers don't approve of that. They don't think that's the way it ought to be done.
PAMELA DEAN:
Did they suggest that you were going into closed session at times that you shouldn't have been? Or they just generally objected to closed sessions, period?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
No, they never suggested that because they knew that it didn't make any difference whether they knew it was so or not. I don't think they ever accused us of that because they couldn't prove it. I also want to say this, that we occasionally when we had delicate questions coming up, and we knew about them in advance, and we apprehended that the newspapers would take some erroneous or false position about it and about what transpired at the meeting, that is when I would always employ a court reporter to take down everything that went on and give me a transcript of it.
PAMELA DEAN:
For a formal record.
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Yes.
PAMELA DEAN:
Can you give an example of when that might have happened? What kind of things you might have been dealing with?
THOMAS JACKSON WHITE, JR.:
Well, I remember, we had a group of people that lived in a small residential section on the north side of this site and they were very offended that anybody would build a museum close to the property that they owned. They didn't like that. Later on, they didn't like the noise that came from our little power plant. They didn't like this and they didn't like that. They didn't like anything and they frequently appeared before our commission, and they would write letters to the editors, and of course they were always opposed. They finally came to the point where they couldn't agree among themselves about what they wanted done. They didn't like the way we were going to plant trees. They didn't like anything. Then some of the state politicians, some of the Raleigh politicians, got into the act. They were going to use the people in this little community as a nucleus of vote-getters for themselves. It got real sticky and these people would come to our meetings and they would collaborate with the newspaper reporters at the meeting; some of these and some of the newspaper people, infrequently, but more times than once, became very insulting to the members of the commission at times. I remember asking a Raleigh Times reporter if he was present to report the news or if he was there in support of these people who were going to be heard. Whereupon this reporter informed me that that was none of my business. This was characteristic of the kind of meetings we occasionally had. The politicians whose attention these people (called "The Meredith Woods People") attracted, finally got around to getting up some state funds to build first one thing, and then another, in an effort to appease these Meredith Woods People. First, they wanted the state to build what is called a "berm", which I think is a mound of dirt. Then they were going to set out certain trees and all these things were designed to satisfy these people. They finally did satisfy them. I don't know how they did it but it was done in a way that didn't bother the museum. And when they got to that point, everything was rosy, it was all right. But I think they are still fussing over the thing among themselves. I hope they are. [Laughter]