The Daily Home requested all emails and communication between the mayor and council regarding the city clerk nominees when questions surfaced regarding whether the council acted in accordance with the Alabama Open Meetings Act when they hired a new city clerk.
“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 Jan. 17 request stated.
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.”
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.
The city of Riverside provided The Daily Home with emails from Mayor Rusty Jessup to Councilmen Jimmy Hollander, Frank Riddle, Bill Cantley, Johnny Osborn and Kenny Womack.
Questions arose after the council hired Candace Smith as the new city clerk without public discussion at its Jan. 7 council meeting.
Cantley and Osborn motioned to table the city clerk vote for further discussion at a work session; however the motion failed in a 4-2 vote.
Osborn said after each interview, there were very limited discussions regarding the candidates.
“We didn’t do in-depth discussions,” he said. “I made the motion to table the vote because I felt the full council should discuss it together in a work session since not all the council members were present for the interviews. It is a very important hire, and I had not gotten information on how the city clerk hire would affect personnel changes. We had discussed hiring two candidates, one as the city clerk and one as assistant city clerk primarily over the water department.”
Womack did not attend any of the candidate interviews. Riddle, who made the motion to hire Smith, did not attend the interviews for Tammy Hayes, Amber Mikell and Mary Nash, but did attend the interviews for Brittney Rashleigh and Smith.
Cantley said he replied to an email Jessup sent regarding the city clerk discussion.
“I replied to it by stating my wish to have further discussions,” he said. “It was the last I’d heard of anything until the council meeting. I didn’t know anything would happen before that night and was surprised to see one candidate there. I am glad we got the city clerk we did, I just don’t think procedure was followed.”
Cantley said after there was no response to his reply email to the mayor and council members, he assumed there would be further discussion.
“I am happy with our choice, but felt proper procedure would be to discuss it more because it is a big decision,” he said.
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