Update: Both bills died in committee today. 2-3-15.
State Senator Lydia Chassaniol (R-Butler Snow) filed two bills last week that would restrict the Open Meetings Act. The Greenwood Commonwealth reported last week:
Both bills would redefine a “meeting” under the Open Meetings Act to apply only to those meetings at which at least a quorum of board members is present.
Senate Bill 2489 is even more explicit, specifying that a meeting “does not include serial assemblages of less than a quorum of members.”..... ( Earlier post. )
Tom Hood, the executive director of the Mississippi Ethics Commission, the body charged with enforcing the Open Meetings Act, said the Ethics Commission and the state’s courts have repeatedly deemed such practices, called a “rolling quorum,” as illegal under the state’s sunshine laws.The bill was apparently filed in retaliation for the Ethics Commission finding the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors in violation of the Open Meetings Act. The supervisors issued bonds in 2013 to pay for various projects. Groups of supervisors that were smaller than a quorum met with the county administrator, the board attorney, and the financial consultant. All groups met on the same day and the total groups included all supervisors. The subject of the meetings was the sale of the bonds. The bond issue was placed on the agenda for a meeting and the supervisors voted to issue $14 million in bonds. The board hired Butler Snow for representation before the commission. The board also voted to appeal the decision.
Chassaniol’s bills, Hood said, would make it far easier for boards to hold critical discussions or debate public policy without giving members of the public and the press a chance to be present....
The commission ruled that the practice of using a "piecemeal quorum" was illegal and a violation of the Open Meetings Act. The commission ruled:
On March 26, 2013, the bond consultant met with four supervisors, a quorum of the board. The consultant first met with two supervisors and then separately met with another two supervisors but discussed the same topic with all four supervisors. Although the board intended to comply with the law, these two separate meetings circumvented the Open Meetings Act by avoiding a physical gathering of a quorum at the same place at the same time. However, the consultant met with all four supervisors about the same matter, a matter under the authority of the Board. Those gatherings involved the “deliberative stages of the decision-making process that lead to formation and determination of public policy” regarding the subsequent bond issue. Those gatherings collectively constitute a “meeting” of the Board within the meaning of the Act. These private gatherings were clearly intended to exclude the public from the deliberations by the board members about a matter of public concern. Those deliberations should have only occurred at a properly noticed public meeting of the Board.Legislative sources told JJ that Butler Snow was the prime mover behind these two bills. Butler Snow seems to think it can get these bills passed when Mississippi's public corruption and weak ethics laws are in the spotlight. The Ethics Commission also issued similar rulings against Yazoo City and the city of Columbus as well . The mayors of both cities contacted members of their respective city councils/board of aldermen to discuss specific items to avoid meeting the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. The legislature should say hell no to Butler Snow and kick these attempts to weaken good government laws out of the capitol back to Lauderdale, Columbus, and Yazoo where they belong.