Legality of candidates meeting questioned

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 3, 2008

NATCHEZ — The legality of the meeting called by Natchez citizen Eledra Dunkley at the City Council Chambers Thursday night is being questioned.

The meeting was advertised as an open, public meeting to discuss with mayoral and aldermen candidates city issues.

Once the host arrived, 45 minutes late, the media and the members of the public were asked to leave as the “agenda had changed” and the meeting was no longer public.

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Mayoral candidate Chick Graning said he was concerned that the only people left were candidates.

“Ms. Dunkley arrived 30 to 40 minutes late, saying she had been in another meeting an immediately asked The Democrat to leave since the agenda of the meeting as she put it had done a complete about face,” he said. “Shortly after (The Democrat) left, several other members of the public in attendance were asked to leave.”

Graning said Dunkley wanted to privately explain to the candidates or candidates’ representatives why the agenda of the meeting had changed.

Allegedly, Dunkley said Mayor Phillip West had “sabotaged” the meeting.

“I personally don’t believe the mayor did anything of the kind,” Graning said.

West said he was trying to help Dunkley discern whether having a meeting of that nature would be illegal, and that’s all he did.

“For her to accuse me of sabotaging the meeting, it’s absurd, it’s a lie and I resent it,” he said.

Once Dunkley finished her explanation, she told the candidates she wanted to talk about the public school system, Graning said.

“There was an exchange of ideas and opinions as to what might be done to bring our public school system up to an acceptable level of performance,” he said.

Graning said he felt slightly uneasy about the nature of the meeting and afterwards spoke to mayoral candidate Jake Middleton, who wasn’t present but sent a proxy.

Middleton said he had questioned the legality of the meeting.

“My only concern was if we were going to talk politics, I wasn’t really clear on whether we could do that in a public building,” Middleton said.

He said the reason he didn’t go was because he was out campaigning that evening.

Graning said if he had any clue the meeting’s legality would be questioned, he wouldn’t have gone.

“I would like it known that had there been any doubt as to the legality of the meeting, I would not have attended,” he said.

City Attorney Everett Sanders said he heard on Friday that the meeting had been changed to a private one and he’s looking into whether that’s legal or not.

“The matter is under investigation,” he said.