OORC: Carter County committee appointments may have violated Sunshine Law

Elisha Hodge with the Office of Open Records Counsel alerted the Carter County Commission chairman this week that it appears the governing body violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act in its appointments to committees. She also noted the public vote afterward did not appear to cure any violation because it did not include “new and substantial reconsideration” of the issues.

The Elizabethton Star outlines in a detailed story Thursday how the commission first directed the three commissioners from each district to confer privately to decide who would be on which committee, and to forward their decision to the county clerk. Then at a Sept. 15 meeting, when a dispute was apparent, the vice-chair of the commission called a recess so three of the commissioners from one district could confer in private to resolve it.

Here’s an excerpt from the story about committee appointments and the Sunshine Law from the Star:

“Based upon the language (of state law), it is the opinion of this office that in order for multiple members of a governing body to meet and deliberate toward or make decisions on public business, the meeting is required to be adequately noticed to the public, open to the public and have recorded minutes,” Hodge said.

“Based solely upon the information that has been presented to this office, it appears as though open meetings violations may  have occurred. It is my understanding that when the Sept. 15, 2014 commission meeting reconvened, the members of District 2 voted on the recommended appointments and thereafter, the entire commission voted on the appointments.”

Hodge opined those public votes alone aren’t enough to cure any violation that may have occurred before and during the Sept. 15, 2014 meeting.

“The courts in Tennessee have held that in order for a violation to be cured, the governing body must engage in new and substantial reconsideration of the issues that were discussed and decided upon outside of an adequately noticed public meeting,” she said. “It does not appear that there was new and substantial reconsideration of any of the recommended appointments prior to the meeting being recessed or afterwards.”

Here are links to Hodge’s letter to Carter County  and the full story by the Elizabethton Star.

What do you think?