Greenbrier Responds To Accusations Of Lack Of Transparency
GREENBRIER TENNESSEE: (Smokey Barn News) – The city of Greenbrier and former Mayor Billy Wilson are defending themselves after an article by a local reporter alleges the city may have been violating sunshine laws as far back as a decade.
In a statement released at 11:31 pm Friday evening, the city denies any wrongdoing.
“Dear Greenbrier Residents,
Rachel Slusser, CMFO
“Earlier today there was a Facebook post of an article written by (a local reporter.) I would like to put any fear or misconceptions out of your mind with the “Greenbrier Board quietly holding meetings, with no minutes taken” article. This article is not true.
“First, I need to explain what she refers to as a “pre-agenda” meeting. This isn’t a “pre-agenda” meeting; it is an “agenda planning session” (as the posted Notices state). As the name implies, this meeting plans the agenda. This planning session SETS the agenda for the upcoming meeting. This means if there is an item that an alderman would like on the agenda; this would be the time to put it on there. There are NO decisions made or discussions of how anyone is going to vote at this meeting.
“THESE MEETINGS ARE FOR SETTING THE AGENDA ONLY. When this meeting happens, the agenda packets (what they are going to read for preparation of a vote) aren’t assembled yet. The only thing the Board Members get at this meeting is the agenda, a single piece of paper that does not have any detail of the ordinances, resolutions, etc., that are scheduled for a vote. These items are in the agenda packet they receive the following week.
“Second, each and every meeting is advertised to the public in the form of a notice, not a flier. They are displayed where the public can see it. They are located in at least 5 public sites inside the city limits of Greenbrier. These notices are placed in businesses where patrons can “notice” them. They are not hidden from view. It’s true Tennessee law doesn’t define adequate notice; however, the City does provide adequate notice for each of these agenda planning meetings. Also, the City doesn’t move the meeting around to confuse the citizens. As far as putting the meeting notice on Facebook, that can be done without a problem. I want to encourage any citizen that believes that notice for these meeting hasn’t been given in the past to call me or come by City Hall, and I will be more than happy to meet with you.
“Third, regarding the date of the meeting being on a Wednesday or a Friday. It just happens to fall on those days. It could be a Monday, Tuesday, or a Thursday. It is according to when the Mayor and most Aldermen are available. These are not regularly called meetings like the Board of Mayor and Aldermen or Planning & Zoning Commission (these meetings are mandated by Greenbrier’s Charter and Code). These agenda planning meetings are in addition to the mandated ones. Once again, since the City gives adequate notice to the public, they are NOT illegal nor are they secret. They are held in the public and in a public space.
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“Fourth, the issue regarding the lack of formal minutes, there are no formal minutes of these meetings. However, there are my notes that are with each month’s board meeting file that list the time started/time ended, who attended, and if there were any changes to the agenda. Yes, everyone, there are records of these meetings. These meetings don’t require formal minutes to be approved (remember these are not formal meetings), like the meeting for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen or Planning & Zoning Commission. There are no decisions, no votes, or no discussions that are taking place in these meetings.
“Fifth, as for placing the agenda planning session date/time or its minutes on the City Website, again, this is NOT a meeting that is every month. The Board and Planning Commission meetings are scheduled every month on the same day of the week during the same week of the month. The Board meetings are held the first Monday and Planning meets the second Tuesday (of each month). Both start at 7:00 pm at Greenbrier City Hall. As far as my notes (minutes), at this time, they will not be on our website. In the article, (the reporter) states, “Also missing from the city website are minutes from these pre-agenda meetings. All other meeting minutes are in the database on the site”. This is simply not true either. The only minutes on the website are for the Board of Mayor and Aldermen meetings. Planning and Zoning Commission minutes are currently not on there. If you want a copy of Planning & Zoning Commission Minutes or agenda planning minutes, I will be happy to provide them. Please come to City Hall and fill out a request for records form.
“As (the reporter) said in the article, “Even if a meeting is non-voting, a record should still be kept of when the board met, who attended and what was discussed, even if that record is pretty short”, well (reporter), there is a record.
“For the meeting that was held on Wednesday the 28th of March, there was nothing to change on the agenda. Therefore, the meeting was quick. It had nothing to do with the fact that it concluded: (when the reporter arrived) The meeting was over, plain and simple. I would like to add that any time a reporter wants to talk to Board Members and/or Staff; they have been provided everything they asked for.
“As Greenbrier’s City Recorder, I have been in this position for over ten years. I have had countless hours of open meeting/sunshine law classes. Trust me when I say that if the City was violating this in any way, the Office of Open Records Counsel in Tennessee would have already heard from me.” Sincerely, Rachel Slusser, CMFO
According to the article, the meetings went as far back as ten years, eclipsing former Mayor Billy Wilson’s tenure. Wilson also took offense to the allegations telling Smokey Barn News that he put out a memo (pictured left) abolishing those type of meetings days after taking office. “From September 1st when I took office until January 24th of 2014 there was never one of those meetings, never happened,” Wilson said.
Wilson added that during his time with Greenbrier Fire, years before he was elected Mayor, he attended the meetings. Back then they were called Committee Meetings, Wilson said. “What they’re saying is that they’re trying to plan a Board meeting. They say they don’t vote but when they leave they have an opinion. That’s not how you do a meeting,” Willson said.
Wilson said another reason he didn’t like the meetings is they never took minutes but the main reason he didn’t like them was there was no sense in them, and that’s why he stopped the practice after taking office. “You go spend two hours with everybody talking, –well I think this, –I think that— well what is that? that your opinion on voting, I don’t care if you put it in a minute or not.”
According to the University of Tennessee Institute for Public Service website, in enacting the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, the General Assembly declared it to be “the public policy of the state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.” T.C.A. § 8-44-101. As recognized by the Tennessee Court of Appeals, “Our Open Meetings Law is perhaps one of the most comprehensive and extensive in the nation. There are no exceptions except those situations which may be in conflict with the constitution.” Lakeway Publishers, Inc. v. Civil Service Board, 1994 WL 315919 (Tenn. Ct. App.). Ironically, the General Assembly itself is not subject to this law. See Mayhew v. Wilder, 46 S.W.3d 760 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2001).
The Open Meetings Act, commonly referred to as the “Sunshine Law,” is found in T.C.A. § 8-44-101 et seq. The requirements of this law are as follows:
All meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings and must be open to the public at all times. T.C.A. § 8-44-102;
Adequate public notice of all regular and special meetings must be given. T.C.A. § 8-44-103;
The minutes of the meetings must be recorded and open to public inspection and at a minimum must contain a record of the persons present, all motions, proposals and resolutions offered, the results of any votes taken, and a record of individual votes in the event of a roll call. T.C.A. § 8-44-104(a); and…
All votes must be by public vote, public ballot, or public roll call; secret votes are prohibited. T.C.A. § 8-44-104(b).
Any action taken in a meeting in violation of any of the foregoing requirements is void. T.C.A. § 8-44-105.
Any action taken at a meeting in violation of the Sunshine Law is void. T.C.A. § 8-44- 105. While this provision does not forever bar a public body from subsequently ratifying an action taken in violation of the act, it does not allow a public body to ratify an action in a subsequent meeting by perfunctory affirmation of its earlier action. In order to remedy a violation of the Sunshine Law, however, the ultimate decision must be made at a meeting that satisfies the Sunshine Law and there must be new and substantial reconsideration of the issues involved. Neese v. Paris Special School District, 813 S.W.2d 432 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1990); Johnston v. Metropolitan Gov’t of Nashville and Davidson County, 320 S.W.3d 299 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2009), permission to appeal denied (Tenn. 2010). Even if a subsequent meeting is held in compliance with the Sunshine Law, the ratification and confirmation of an action will not remedy a prior violation of the Sunshine Law if it is merely a “perfunctory rubber stamp.” Souder v. Health Partners, Inc., 997 S.W.2d 140 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998).
Under the act, any citizen may bring an action in circuit court, chancery court, or any court of equity to enforce the Sunshine Law. These courts are given broad authority to issue injunctions, impose penalties, and otherwise enforce the purposes of the act. T.C.A. § 8-44-106.
Questions concerning the application of this law may be referred to the county attorney or the CTAS staff.
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