Lawsuit alleges Open Meetings violation in Greene County

A second lawsuit alleging an open meetings violation in Greene County in relation to an industrial plant under construction there has been filed by citizens associated with the group, Save the Nolichucky.

The lawsuit against the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and U.S. Nitrogen, LLC, claims both acted improperly and illegally in the approval processes needed for building the plant, which plans to make ammonium nitrate used in industrial explosives.

The lawsuit specifically alleges that the industrial development board violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act at a July 18 meeting when “numerous citizens in attendance were purposefully or negligently prevented from hearing the deliberations of the IDB.”

The citizens seek to void the actions taken at the meeting which included voting to apply with the Tennessee Department of Transportation for right-of-way permits so that U.S. Nitrogen could connect pipelines to the Nolichucky River. 

The Office of Open Records Counsel received 59 complaints from citizens about the July 18 meeting, in which a citizen, Eddie Overholt, was arrested after asking the board to speak louder so citizens could hear. Open Records Counsel Elisha Hodge wrote a letter to the IDB saying that meetings must be audible to comply with the Open Meetings Act. (TCOG published a column about the incident in several newspapers around the state: “Tennessee Open Meetings Act more than a checklist“.)

You can read a story about the lawsuit from The Greeneville Sun. Here is a link to the lawsuit. The citizens’ attorney is D. Scott Hurley.

Meanwhile, a separate lawsuit filed by different citizens alleging other open meetings violations related to the same industrial plant is moving toward trial, although one of the defendants, Greene County Partnership was dropped from the litigation. In that case, citizens say the Greene County Regional Planning Commission violated the Open Meetings Act when it voted on a zoning change that allowed U.S. Nitrogen to build its plant without revealing the name of the company or its plans to the public. By withholding information about the company, the lawsuit says that the commission did not give adequate notice “of matters of significant public interest material to the rezoning application…”

What do you think?