Tuesday, October 01, 2013

October 1, 2013 Councilmembers Violate Open Meetings Act at Kingsport Retreat

The City Council held a special workshop or "retreat" at the luxurious Meadowview Convention Center in Kingsport on Friday, September 13, and Saturday, September 14. Six councilmembers attended the retreat. [Mayor Thomas was present briefly on Friday but left and did not return.]

It appears that the six councilmembers attending the Kingsport retreat violated the Open Meetings Act by discussing, deliberating, and actually making a decision to give City Administrator Tony Cox a $7,000 increase to his deferred compensation package.

When you hold a "special" called meeting or workshop, there are special requirements for the public notice that is provided. The notice must include the agenda for the meeting and each item that will be deliberated on or on which a decision will be made.

According to the September 6, 2013, public notice for this special workshop/retreat, the council was going to Kingsport to work on "strategic planning" with MTAS facilitator Pat Hardy. 

Apparently, they did more than just strategize in Kingsport. In this video taken at the Finance Committee meeting on September 17, 2013, Councilmember Gary Chesney, who is chairman of the Finance Committee, admits that the six councilmembers discussed and deliberated and reached a decision on additional compensation for the City Administrator--even though this was not an agenda item on the public notice for the special workshop meeting.

You might ask whether council could have amended the published agenda to add the deferred compensation item for discussion and deliberation. The short answer is "no." A special called meeting is just that---it is called for a special and specific purpose. The public must be notified of the purpose or purposes and no other item(s) may be considered. [At a regular meeting, agendas typically can be amended to add items but special called meetings are different]

There is another irony to this violation of the open meetings act. Chesney has recently been posting on his City Hall website about being a "firm believer" in Tennessee's Sunshine laws. (1) The Open Meetings Act which calls for open meetings and adequate public notice of those meetings, and (2) the Public Records Act which requires that public records be available to the public. 

Click here to see what Mr. Chesney had to say about Tennessee's Sunshine laws right before he violated the Open Meetings Act as admitted in the video. 

Mr. Chesney was not alone in this violation. Councilmembers Kay Senter, Paul LeBel, Chris Bivens, Bob Garrett, and Dennis Alvis were present in Kingsport as well and, according to Chesney, all discussed and "agreed" on the additional compensation.

Today, the full council will try to "cure" this particular violation by taking up the deferred compensation issue at its regular council meeting.

[As a sidenote, I find Mr. Chesney's City Hall website very informative. I recently commended him at a public meeting for taking the time to post about city business and meetings. I wish other councilmembers would do the same and, as always, I continue to ask that the council put its council packets online so that the public can see the contracts, the resolutions, the ordinances, and background information for council actions]

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