Ethics commission: Adams County EMA COVID-19 meetings not subject to Open Meetings Act

Published 11:48 am Wednesday, July 15, 2020

NATCHEZ — Adams County Emergency Management did not violate the Mississippi Open Meetings Act by hosting private meetings to disseminate COVID-19 information, the Mississippi Ethics Commission ruled last week.

The Natchez Democrat filed a complaint with the Mississippi Ethics Commission in early May when Emergency Management Director Robert Bradford excluded the press from invitation-only meetings.

These meeting are hosted bi-weekly via teleconference for the purpose of collecting and distributing information, such as the logistics of supplies; the number of COVID-19 infections in the county; enforcement of executive orders by law enforcement and COVID-19 education in general, officials said.

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The Mississippi Ethics Commission dismissed the complaint on July 10, stating that the meetings organized by Bradford were not held accountable to the Open Meetings Act.

In response to the complaint, the Adams County Board of Supervisors had stated while Bradford is appointed by the board, a COVID-19 Task Force was never appointed by the Board of Supervisors and those invited by Bradford to attend the meetings are not a public body.

These meetings have been attended by some county employees, appointed or elected officials and members of the public such as healthcare workers and community volunteers.

County officials stated that the meetings are fluid and aren’t necessarily attended by the same individuals every time.

In their ruling to dismiss the complaint, Mississippi Ethics Commission agreed with the supervisors, stating “a ‘public body’ exists only when created by statute, by executive order or by a public body as a committee and is supported by public funds.”

The commission further stated that the “Adams County COVID-19 Task Force was not established by the Adams County Board of Supervisors,” but is a group of individuals that are invited to attend meetings and is not a public body subject to the Open Meetings Act.