Open Records Counsel tells Greene County mayor citizens must be able hear at meetings

The state’s Open Records Counsel warned Greene County Mayor Alan Broyles in a letter Monday that the law requires citizens to be able to hear deliberations and decisions at public meetings, and the Greene County Industrial Development Board which he chairs should consult with its attorney after 59 citizen complaints over a July 18 meeting.

Elisha Hodge, state of Tennessee's Office of Open Records Counsel

Elisha Hodge, state of Tennessee’s Office of Open Records Counsel

While her letter made clear that an inaudible public meeting would be in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, she chose not to address the arrest of citizen Eddie Overholt, who was kicked out of the July meeting, cuffed and charged with disruption after he asked the board to speak louder because citizens could not hear. (See video here.)

Here is link to a copy of Hodge’s letter.

As is customary with Hodge’s letters on potential open meetings violations, she advised the Industrial Development Board to consult with its attorney and alerted Broyles that if a lawsuit were brought, a court would determine whether or not a violation occurred.

She also suggested “that the Board specifically discuss ways in which it can ensure that members of the public are able to hear all of the deliberations taking place and decisions being made by the Board in the future.”

“It is important that you speak with your attorney about these complaints because, pursuant to the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, a citizen has the right to bring a lawsuit against an entity when he/she feels than an open meetings violation has occurred.”

Under the law, if a violation has occurred a court can void the action taken at the meeting.

Hodge makes a footnote in her letter saying that she watched video from the meeting several times. “There are portions of the meeting that are inaudible to me even though there was a microphone on the camera that was being used to record the meeting.”

Video of the meeting shows that the board members sat around a table so that some had their backs to the audience. Citizens packed the room, many along the back wall because there were not enough chairs. The meeting was held in the board room of a local utility, which had a traditional board platform facing the audience equipped with microphones. No microphones were used by the Industrial Development Board members.

It is unclear why no preparations were made to make the deliberations of the board audible in the crowded room.  Police were at the meeting to deal with what was expected to be a crowded meeting because of opposition to an industrial plant that some fear would pollute the Nolichucky River.





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