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Attorney issues challenge on board’s closed meetings

Despite court rulings and a Mississippi Attorney General’sopinion, city officials continue to violate the state’s openmeetings laws and have now challenged citizens to take them tocourt if they do not approve of the city’s actions.

When questioned about a quickly-called executive session by aDAILY LEADER reporter during last night’s city board meeting, CityAttorney Joe Fernald referred to an Attorney General’s opinion onprocedural matters as nothing but an opinion that had no basis, andhe suggested the newspaper take the board to court.

At the end of last night’s meeting, Ward 2 Alderman Terry Batesrequested a short executive session to discuss a personnel matter.Officials quickly followed closed determination hearing andexecutive session voting procedures for the closed meeting.

However, when asked for more specifics on the session, Batessaid only it was a city matter. Fernald declared that stating thesession was for reasons of “personnel” was sufficient notice

According to Section 25-41-7 of the Mississippi code, among thereasons for executive session is the “transaction of business anddiscussion of personnel matters relating to the job performance,character, professional competence or physical or mental health ofa person holding a specific position.”

Judicial decisions regarding the law state, “Even though anexecutive session might come under ‘personnel matters’ … this inand of itself is insufficient in the absence of at least areasonably arguable basis of an actual, present need for a closedmeeting on the subject.”

In the case of Hinds County v. Common Cause, the state supremecourt indicated, “A board which only announces litigation orpersonnel matters for going into executive session has saidnothing.”

“It is a shame that our city fathers do not see fit to followstate law and conduct their proceedings in an open manner, ” saidBill Jacobs, editor and publisher of the DAILY LEADER. “It isfurther bothersome that the city is effectively telling itscitizens, ‘if you don’t like what we are doing, take us tocourt…’ The arrogance of this board is amazing.”

Following last night’s short executive session, Mayor BillGodbold and Bates said the session involved a salary question abouta part-time employee hired earlier in the night for the airport. Inasking for the additional help earlier in the meeting, AirportManager Benton Furlow said the man would not work for less than $8an hour.