When We Get Behind Closed Doors

Knox County Commissions got nothing on Lenoir City when it comes to violating the Open Meetings Law. With the ink still wet on the scathing Investigative Audit Report by the State Comptrollers Office, LCUB board members first action was to violate more of the state's laws. Holding an unannounced, unposted special called meeting behind closed doors in the board room at the LCUB office Thursday morning. The meeting lasted several hours. LCUB's general manager, Fred Nelson, finally appeared in the lobby at the request of News Sentinel reporter, Hugh Willett, but declined to answer any questions. Nelson did present a written statement. Click here for statement. (PDF). The statement contains answers to some of the findings of the audit.

Some board members stated that the meeting was an "executive session" with legal council and therefore could be held in private. This is of course is patently wrong. The law is crystal clear pertaining to open meetings. The Open Meetings Act requires that:

All meetings of any governing body be declared to be public meetings and must be open to the public at all times (T.C.A. 8-44-102).
Adequate public notice of all regular and special meetings must be given (T.C.A. 8-44-103).

The very narrow exception to the requirement of conducting all public business in the open applied only to private meetings between a public board and its counsel, so long as no discussion or deliberation takes place. Officials may provide counsel with facts and information regarding the lawsuit and counsel may advise them about the legal ramifications of those facts and the information given him. However, once any discussion, whatsoever, begins among the members of the public body regarding what action to take based upon advice from counsel, whether it be settlement or otherwise, such discussion shall be open to the public and failure to do so shall constitute a clear violation of the Open Meetings. From MTAS.

Further more, TCA 8-44-103. Notice of public meetings provides:

  (a) Notice of Regular Meetings. Any such governmental body which holds a meeting previously scheduled by statute, ordinance, or resolution shall give adequate public notice of such meeting.

(b) Notice of Special Meetings. Any such governmental body which holds a meeting not previously scheduled by statute, ordinance, or resolution, or for which notice is not already provided by law, shall give adequate public notice of such meeting.

8-44-105.  Action nullified - Exception.

  Any action taken at a meeting in violation of this part shall be void and of no effect; provided, that this nullification of actions taken at such meetings shall not apply to any commitment, otherwise legal, affecting the public debt of the entity concerned.

LCUB and several individuals apparently have a lot of explaining to do.

Once again our public officials have shown a callus disregard for abiding by the law and until such time serious enforcement and penalties are enacted, our public officials will continue to ignore the law.

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