|After speaking to a number of those in attendance at
last weeks officials meeting, seems Mayor Arp is bound and determined to keep the
public and the media in the dark as to the affairs of County government.
At least that was one of the issues discussed at an unannounced meeting
last week. The meeting called by the mayor was for all elected and
appointed officials. Except, there were no commissioners in attendance.
A host of topics were discussed including the next budget, ethics, FLMA, workman's comp, comp time, firing, hiring and promotions. Much time was devoted to the topic of altering employee pay periods to accommodate direct deposit pay system and other changes. At one point the group even voted on when to implement the policy. It was also announced that the law firm of Kramer Rayson has been retained to revise the employee hand book. There was also a lot of time spent trying to decide how to deal with excess accrued vacation days. One suggestion was for the county to buy back excess vacation days from employees. Rank and file employees were not invited to the meeting.
One of the more interesting parts of the meeting was when the mayor related to the group how under his "theory" he had figured out a way to avoid having to comply with the open meetings laws. While discussing a former committee, the mayor stated that when he appoints committees, he plans to put more officials on the committee and just one commissioner thereby avoiding the need to give public notices and contacting the media when these committees meet. In fact he stated that he has already employed this tactic with the schools facility plan and was very proud of the fact that none of the information discussed by that committee has gotten into the paper.Unfortunately, the mayor got it wrong again. It's not just commissioners meeting that must adhere to the sunshine laws.
The Sunshine Law provides in T.C.A. § 8-44-102(b)(1) that the term “governing body” to which the law applies means:
The members of any public body which consists of two (2) or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration....The term "public body" is not defined in the Act; however, the Tennessee Supreme Court has noted with respect to the term that:
It is clear that for the purpose of this Act, the Legislature intended to include any board, commission, committee, agency, authority or any other body, by whatever name, whose origin and authority may be traced to State, City or County legislative action and whose members have authority to make decisions or recommendations on policy or administration affecting the conduct of the business of the people in the governmental sector. (Source CTAS)
It's unfortunate that the mayor reported that he has implemented his theory on the schools facility plan. According to CTAS this could be a problem.
What are the penalties for violating the Act? Under T.C.A. § 8-44-105, the sanctions are severe. Any action taken at a meeting in violation of the Act shall be void and of no effect. (Source CTAS)
First it was the public records fiasco, now this. It appears County government may be in for some big changes. For better or worse.