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Lack of minutes may violate state law — Brookhaven aldermen made no notes on discussion

A committee of the Brookhaven Board of Aldermen formed to study a possible city swimming pool may have violated state law by not keeping minutes of its meetings.

Ward 1 Alderman Dorsey Cameron, Ward 4 Alderman Jason Snider and Ward 6 Alderman Shelley Harrigill have met with the city engineer and an architect to discuss a feasibility study concerning the construction of a community center and swimming pool, but when The Daily Leader asked for copies of the minutes from those meetings there were none to give. Snider said the committee members did not keep minutes of their discussions because they were giving information to contractors instead of receiving it.

“It was a committee that was providing input to the architect and engineer,” Snider said. “There’s not a secretary.”

The Mississippi Open Meetings Act requires that “minutes shall be kept of all meetings of a public body, whether in open or executive session, showing the members present and absent; the date, time and place of the meeting; an accurate recording of any final actions taken at such meeting; and a record, by individual member, of any votes taken; and any other information that the public body requests be included or reflected in the minutes.”

The law identifies any “committees” of an elected board as a “public body.” It goes on to say minutes shall be open to public inspection within 30 days. The swimming pool committee was formed in October 2017 and has met an unknown number of times since.

Leonard Van Slyke, a media and First Amendment attorney who works with the Mississippi Press Association, said there is a “very narrow window” established by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1989 that says minutes are not required if the public body was simply listening to information presented.

“Of course, that presumes there was absolutely no discussion and no questions raised by the board committee, and that it was merely a listening session,” he said. “If they are on the giving end of presenting information, that narrow exception would not apply.”

The Daily Leader stumbled upon the committee, meeting in a small conference room in the mayor’s office, on May 1. No prior notice of the meeting was posted, and the newspaper was denied entry.

City officials said the meeting did not fall under the requirements of the Open Meetings Act because a quorum of the full seven-member board of aldermen was not present. Harrigill had previously told the newspaper that aldermen met with planning consultants in small groups to avoid having a quorum.

The Daily Leader has filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission in response to the closed meeting and the practice of avoiding a quorum.

Cameron and Harrigill did not return messages seeking comment.