“In accordance with Alabama Open Records laws, The Daily Home is requesting a copy of all communications between the mayor and council members regarding the city clerk nominees since November 1, 2013, which includes all emails and written correspondence,” the request stated. “All correspondence must be provided to The Daily Home within 10 days or it will be considered as a refusal of this request.”
Dennis Bailey, general counsel for the Alabama Press Association, said emails between the mayor and council members regarding city clerk candidates are public records.
“It doesn’t matter if it was a personal or work email,” he said. “All emails discussing the candidates are open records.”
Under the Alabama Open Meetings Act, gatherings of a quorum of the body must be public if the members intend “to deliberate specific matters that, at the time of the exchange, the participating members expect to come before the body … at a later date.”
The Alabama Open Meetings Act also “prevents the use of electronic media and communications to circumvent the goal of an open meeting.”
“Circumstantial evidence points to the council not deliberating or violating the Open Meetings Act,” Bailey said. “If taken to court, a judge could decide to set aside the hire and re-conduct the process.”
Under the Alabama Open Meetings Act, “Financial penalties: The maximum penalty for each member of the body for each violation is the lesser or $1,000 or half of the defendant’s monthly salary for serving on the body.”
Bailey said the purpose of the Open Meetings Act is that five people in a meeting discuss things differently than one-on-one, and that group meeting deliberations are better because then everyone hears the same information at the same time.
“If there was no chance for the public to see deliberation, then either the council selected a city clerk without any public or private deliberation, which would be irresponsible, or they conducted private deliberations about it, which violates the Open Meetings Act,” Bailey said.
Contact Elsie Hodnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.