“Deliberating the future of a board is not one of the recognized exceptions to the Alabama Open Meetings Act, therefore going into executive session to deliberate on that subject would be improper,” said Dennis Bailey, general counsel of the Alabama Press Association, who specializes in Open Meetings Law cases.
The Lincoln Park Board unanimously voted to enter an executive session during Monday’s meeting to discuss “the future of the board.”
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.
Board members present for the executive session included Watry, Sidney Fomby, Willie Howard, Marilyn Davis, and Doug Guthrie.
“The future of a public board or body is exactly the type of subject that should be discussed in a public meeting,” Bailey said. “There was nothing they (the board) could legally do to go into a private meeting to discuss that subject.”
Watry said Tuesday the board wanted to discuss issues privately.
“We are private citizens, we have rights to ourselves,” he said Tuesday.
Bailey said Watry was confused on who the board works for.
“If they accept the duty of governance of a public entity, they must also accept the burden the OMA (Open Meetings Act) puts on them when communicating with each other,” Bailey said. “The OMA requires them to discuss it in public. They are clearly in the wrong.”
Bailey said boards populated by unpaid volunteers perhaps should be granted a little slack in not knowing how to comply with the OMA, compared with City Council members and other elected officials.
“It is unfortunate they are adamant they will do this,” Bailey said when told the Park Board was warned by The Daily Home newspaper that the reasons stated did not comply with the OMA and entered the executive session anyway.
“There is no excuse for making this mistake twice,” he said.
The Lincoln City Council did not discuss Park Board matters in Wednesday’s work session.
“We are waiting to see what the Park Board will do,” Mayor Lew Watson said Wednesday.
Watson said he was not sure if the city would be liable for legal expenses should the Park Board be sued for violating state law.
“I’m looking into the matter,” he said.
Under the Alabama Open Meetings Act, “any Alabama citizen, media organization, the local District Attorney, or the Attorney General” may raise an action against a public board or body for violating the Alabama Open Meetings Act.
“We have no comment,” Watry said Wednesday.
Park Board members Sidney Fomby, Marilyn Davis, Doug Guthrie, and Willie Howard were unavailable for comment Wednesday.