Local attorney files 2nd ethics complaint against Natchez

Published 12:05 am Thursday, May 3, 2018


NATCHEZ — A Natchez attorney has filed his second ethics complaint against the City of Natchez after taking issue with another private discussion of the city’s next waste collection contract.

This complaint comes again from Natchez attorney Paul Sullivan, who filed a similar complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission alleging a violation of the by Natchez of the state’s Open Meetings Act. This second complaint stems from Tuesday night, when Natchez Aldermen again discussed behind closed doors over whom to award the city’s next waste contract. For the second consecutive meeting, City Attorney Bob Latham justified the non-public executive session by saying the confidential financial details within the six companies’ proposals did not count as public record.

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When pressed on which specific exemption of the Open Meetings Act the city was using to keep out of the public arena, Latham cited exemption (l), which reads: “Discussions regarding material or data exempt from the Mississippi Public Records Act of 1983 pursuant to Section 25-11-121.”

But that section specifically applies to PERS — the Public Employees Retirement System — not anything related to what city officials would be discussing regarding the proposals, reporter John Mott Coffey said during a back-and-forth with Latham.

Latham reiterated that in his position, the financial details and proprietary information in the proposals qualified the matter for executive session.

During those discussions, Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell came out from the conference room where the closed-door meeting was about to take place to see what was happening.

After being further pushed, Latham then changed the exemption to one he previously used, which includes language that allows discussions about the location of a business. As Latham and Grennell began to head into the conference room, Sullivan gave one last objection before the doors closed.

Sullivan reiterated that he believed the city did not have a valid statutory exemption to enter into an executive session.

“Mr. Mayor, this is not how it’s supposed to work,” Sullivan said.

In the latest complaint, Sullivan wrote, “The public has an absolute right under the Open Meetings Act to be present for the discussions of which proposal for garbage services will be accepted by the (Natchez) Board of Aldermen.”

Sullivan said he has yet to receive a response regarding his first ethics complaint filed six days ago, which he made on behalf of four local citizens.

The Natchez Democrat also has filed two ethics complaints on the issue with the State Ethics Commission and has not yet received a response.