Chancellor puts Ridgetop BOMA under permanent court order to not violate open meetings act again

Chancellor Laurence McMillan Jr. has permanently enjoined the Ridgetop’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen from violating the Tennessee Open Meetings Act again in an action that should help ensure that the board’s future decision-making is done in public.

Robertson County Chancellor Laurence M. McMillan Jr. signed an injunction voiding a June 10 decision to eliminate the Ridgetop Police Department, and placed the town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen under permanent court order to not violate the Open Meetings Act again. The order states that the BOMA violated the Open Meetings Act by not providing adequate notice of the June 10 meeting as required by law.

Ridgetop’s BOMA dissolved the five-officer police department in a special-called meeting on June 10. Soon after, questions arose about whether the mayor and aldermen violated the open meetings act by failing to give adequate notice of the meeting.

The city had posted notice of the meeting at the local post office, at city hall and inside a bank. No notice was placed on the city’s website, where meeting notices and agendas regularly appear. The notice only stated that it was a “meeting on the budget and police department” and made no mention of potentially eliminating the police department.

In addition, it was alleged in court records that before the vote was taken, a locksmith had been called to change the locks on the police department, The Tennessean has reported.

The Ridgetop police chief and two police officers filed for and received on June 14 a temporary restraining order against the city from interfering with police department affairs, destroying files and disposing of police department assets. They alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act and a hearing was set for July 1.

Ridgetop board ordered not to violate open meetings law again

On June 28, a few days before the hearing and another board meeting on the police department was to take place, Chancellor McMillan signed an injunction that voided the June 10 decision to dissolve the department and placed the city board under a permanent court order to not violate the open meetings law again.

In addition, the city is required to submit semi-annual reports to the chancellor for a period of one-year of its compliance with the open meetings law, and record in its minutes the “findings of fact and conclusions of law and final judgement” contained in the injunction.

The voiding of the decision, permanent injunction against future violations of the act, the one-year court supervision and inclusion of the judge’s findings and order in the BOMA’s minutes are methods of civil relief provided under the Tennessee Open Meetings Act when a judge has determined that a governing body has violated the law.

The injunction, which was agreed upon by the city and the police chief and officers who brought the suit, states:

1. The parties agree that the notice provided for the June 10, 2019, meeting of the City of Ridgetop’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen was inadequate to the extent that it did not indicate that the meeting would discuss the future operations of the police department;

2. As such, the parties agrees that the Defendant was not in compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 8-44-103 with respect to the notice provided for the June 10, 2019 meeting;

3. The action of the Board of Mayor and aldermen on June 10, 2019, relating to the funding of the Police Department is, thus, null and void;

4. Pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 8-44-106, these written findings of fact and conclusions of law and final judgments shall be recorded in the minutes of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen;

5. Defendant is permanently enjoined from further violation of Tennessee Code Annotated section 8-44-101, et sequ.;

6. This Court retains jurisdiction over the parties and this subject matter for a period of one (1) year from the date of entry of this Order, and this Court orders Defendants to report in writing semiannually to this Court of their compliance with Tennessee Code Annotated section 8-44-101, et seq.;…

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen met on July 2 and approved its annual budget, which included enough funding for the police department to retain the police chief, but not the other officers.

The Tennessean reported that so many citizens attended the meeting that it was standing-room only. Many of them spoke in favor of continuing funding for the department.

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