|BOE meeting legality in question
Lenoir City Board of Education met Thursday behind closed doors to discuss a topic Jeanne Barker, Lenoir City Schools superintendent, said was “not for public knowledge.”
The private meeting took place immediately prior to the start of a regularly scheduled meeting, causing the 11 a.m. meeting to begin four minutes late at 11:04 a.m.
“We had a meeting before that,” Bobby Johnson Sr., board member, said Friday. “(Barker) told us what had been going on. We didn’t know it. She was telling us about it and everything.”
Johnson said he was “not at liberty” to offer details.
“The purpose of the meeting was just to share some information,” Barker said.
The private meeting was not scheduled or announced, which conflicts with the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, which states, “All meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as provided by the Constitution of Tennessee.”
According to the law, a meeting of a government body occurs when “two or more members, with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration,” come together in a manner in “which a quorum is required in order to make a decision or to deliberate toward a decision on any matter.”
While there are exceptions in the open meetings act, the primary exception deals with attorney-client privilege. An attorney was not present during the private meeting held by the board, Barker said.
There has been no official response to an inquiry with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Office of Open Records Counsel.
The board acted in violation of the act if any topics that will need future board approval were discussed.
“If they are getting information, asking questions with the purpose of making a decision, that is supposed to be done in an open meeting,” Deborah Fisher, executive director for the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said. “I can’t say whether what they were doing in the meeting was a violation of the open meetings act, but, in general, if they were in a closed-door meeting on something that they will have to make a decision on and getting information on that and asking questions on that, that would be suspect.
“The problem is you don’t know what was happening in the meeting and the public doesn’t either,” she added. “The thing that would be in opposition of the law would be if they were meeting to get information and ask questions about something that they were going to have to vote on later. If they were discussing in such a way that they were essentially deliberating on a decision that they will have to make.”
Barker would not provide details on the discussion, only saying no decision was made during the private meeting.
“I was sharing some information with them, but that’s not for public knowledge,” Barker said. “That’s not anything I can share right now.”
Loudon in violation?
During Monday’s Loudon City Council meeting, Councilman Lynn Millsaps refused to take part in an executive session, citing the state’s open meeting act as his reason.
“I’ve asked the attorney about this before and he said because it’s personnel issues it’s legal,” Millsaps said. “But sunshine laws are pretty short and blunt ... and I think we’ve been breaking the sunshine law in all our executive sessions except for one, and that one being when you all had to rescind your action after firing (former City) Manager (Lynn) Mills.”
City Attorney Joe Ford fired back at the claim.
“It would have been very helpful, Mr. Millsaps, if you would have given me a heads up that you thought I was giving incorrect legal advice,” Ford said. “Then I would have had a full, documented legal research at the meeting for you to look at.”
“I told you exactly what the law said several months ago,” Millsaps responded.
“And I’m telling you, on the record, it would have been nice to know before you came in here and caught me blindsided with it and disparaged my name in the way you just did,” Ford retorted.
Ford told council he would bring a report on the law and whether the council has been in violation to the June workshop.