“Their actions appear inconsistent with the law,” Mayor Lew Watson said.
The Lincoln Park Board unanimously voted to enter an executive session during Monday’s meeting to discuss “the future of the board.”
“That is clearly not an item you can go into executive session on,” said Watson, who has a law degree from Birmingham School of Law. “It is very upsetting to have this sort of activity.”
The Alabama Open Meetings Act lists nine exclusive reasons for calling an executive session. Discussing the future of the board is not one of the nine exclusive reasons listed.
“The Park Board members are volunteers, and they don’t have (legal) training,” Watson said. “We will provide them with a copy of the Alabama Open Meetings Act.”
The Daily Home newspaper warned Park Board members that the reason board members stated for the executive session did not meet the criteria of state law.
“We are going to do it anyway,” Park Board Chairman Paul Watry said during Monday’s meeting.
Watry said Monday there were some issues he wanted to discuss with the board that he did not want to discuss in public.
“We wanted to talk together in a private session,” he said when contacted Tuesday. “We talked privately because we needed to talk privately. We are private citizens, we have rights to ourselves.”
Watry said no vote was taken during the executive session.
“We listened to each other talk (in the executive session),” he said.
Watry said the board decided not to make a decision to do anything differently.
“There wasn’t anything to discuss in open session,” he said. “We felt we should go on as usual.”
Board members present for the executive session included Watry, Sidney Fomby, Willie Howard, Marilyn Davis, and Doug Guthrie.
Mayor Pro-tem H.H. “Kurt” Kuykendall said the council prides itself on openness.
“All public discussions should be held in the open meeting,” he said. “I was not present for the park board meeting, but if they entered the executive session to discuss the future of the board, I don’t believe that qualifies (under the Alabama Open Meetings Act).”
Watson said he does not believe the council can take action on the matter.
“They (park board) may open themselves up to penalties under the law, which is something we want to avoid,” he said. “They are good folks. They are just not realizing what their duties are under the Alabama Open Meetings Act. They need to understand the requirements of the law so they can follow the law.”
Under the Alabama Open Meetings Act, any Alabama citizen, media organization, the local District Attorney, or the Attorney General may raise an action for violation of the state law. Possible penalties include:
O Financial penalties. The maximum penalty for each member of the body for each violation is the lesser of $1,000 or half of the defendant’s monthly salary for serving on the body. The government body cannot reimburse its individual members for violations of the OMA. If the violation concerns matters in an executive session, only the members who voted to enter the executive session and remained in the executive session are liable.
O Temporary restraining orders. A court can enter a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against the body before entering the final order.
O Invalidation of the meeting. The court can invalidate the actions that occurred during the meeting if the complaint was filed within 21 days of the action being made public, the action was intentional (not the result of a mistake, inadvertence, or excusable neglect), or invalidating the actions will not harm a third party who acted in good faith relying on the results of the meeting. Any action of the body that was conducted in an open meeting cannot be invalidated due to a prior invalid action by the body.