Supes attend illegal meeting

Published 12:14 am Thursday, February 7, 2008

NATCHEZ — In late January, three Adams County supervisors had a meeting that was illegal according to the Mississippi Freedom of Information Act.

On Jan. 30, supervisors Mike Lazarus, S.E. “Spanky” Felter and board President Henry Watts met with County Engineer Jim Marlow and Adams County Road Manager Clarence “Curly” Jones in Marlow’s office.

The Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information’s attorney Leonard Van Slyke said because a quorum of the board was present, and the meeting was not publicly announced, it was a violation of the law.

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“Three out of five, you got a meeting,” Van Slyke said. “It’s a clear violation of the open meeting act.”

When any three of the five supervisors are together there is a quorum.

And when a quorum is present, a meeting must be called and notice posted in a public place.

Van Slyke said the only way the three men could have gathered without violation is by accident or in a purely social setting.

“Any discussion of county business is a meeting,” he said.

But Watts said the supervisors met at Marlow’s office specifically to discuss county business and he did not feel the meeting violated any laws.

No money was spent and no motions were passed, Watts said.

“We were there strictly to get information,” he said.

In addition, Watts said the gathering of the supervisors was not a meeting because no minutes were taken and no press attended the event.

The Democrat did not attend because the meeting was never publicly announced, and the newspaper was not notified.

Lazarus said at the time of the meeting, he was unaware the gathering was a violation.

“I’m pretty new at this,” he said.

But for some the violation was very apparent.

Supervisor Darryl Grennell said the meeting was an obvious violation.

“That is not supposed to happen,” he said.

Grennell and Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell were not at the meeting at Marlow’s office.

Felter, Watts and Lazarus all said Grennell and Campbell could have attended if they wanted to.

At the board’s Jan. 22 meeting, Lazarus expressed a desire to meet with Marlow to discuss state aid funding.

Grennell and Campbell said they would not attend a meeting with Marlow.

“I have been on the board for 10 years,” Grennell said. “I know how state aid works.”

Felter said he was also unaware the meeting violated any laws.

“I want to do what is right by the people of Adams County,” he said.

Lazarus said matters discussed at the meeting were benign.

“The public would not be concerned with that stuff,” he said.

No fine or penalty is outlined in the MFOI Act, but a violation of the law opens the board up for the potential of a lawsuit by any citizen.