Supervisors vote illegally during executive session

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 19, 2009

NATCHEZ — On Tuesday, when the Adams County Board of Supervisors voted to re-fund the Natchez-Adams Economic Development Authority, it did so in an illegal executive session, a open meetings attorney said.

Board President Henry Watts said the decision to fund the EDA was a personnel matter and was justly discussed in executive session.

The Open Meetings Law says a personnel matter only applies to “job performance or the character, professional competence, physical or mental health of a person holding a specific position,” or a “line item in a budget which might affect termination of an employee or employees, although all other budget items must be considered in one meeting.”

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Jackson attorney Leonard Van Slyke, who specializes in open meetings laws, said the board’s use of executive session to discuss the EDA was not valid.

On Tuesday, after the vote was taken, Watts defended the board’s use of executive session and said since EDA’s two-person staff is paid in part with county funds and is in the Public Employees’ Retirement System of Mississippi, they are county employees and can be discussed in executive session.

PERS is a retirement program that can be used by all of the state’s workers.

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said neither of the EDA’s employees were ever discussed by name during the meeting.

Van Slyke said the supervisors don’t have the authority to use executive session on the basis of a personnel matter since they do not have the ability to hire or fire EDA employees.

“It applies to people over which you have supervising authority,” he said.

EDA Chairman Woody Allen said the bill that established the EDA gives hiring and firing authority to the EDA board, not the supervisors.

Supervisor Darryl Grennell said he did not know why the vote was taken during executive session.

“It could have been done in open session,” he said.

Supervisor Mike Lazarus said Tuesday’s vote was done near the very end of the meeting, and he wasn’t sure if the vote was even taken during executive session.

Supervisor S.E. “Spanky” Felter said he also felt the vote could have been done in open session but felt the conversation about the EDA just before the vote was grounds for executive session.

However, Felter would not say what was discussed in the conversation just prior to the vote.

“It was a little bit of everything,” he said

Supervisor Thomas “Boo” Campbell echoed Felter’s remarks and said he felt the conversation prior to the vote was grounds for executive session. He didn’t elaborate on the conversation.

Numerous calls to Watts and Cox were not returned Wednesday.