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June 17, 2014

Views conflict on open meetings law

MILLEDGEVILLE — Comments made during a City Council audio taped discussion about the ramifications of withdrawing city funds from a bank whose president had criticized the council have raised questions regarding violations of the state’s open meeting law.

Adjournment of a March 3 closed session at City Hall was followed by the discussion of authorizing the city manager to withdraw funds from Century Bank & Trust Co. and placing them with another bank.  Century President Chat Daniel had taken the council to task six weeks earlier for not supporting a referendum on city-county consolidation.

On March 13, bank deposits of $5.1 million were removed from Century and invested with Wells Fargo for what the city manager said was a much better rate of interest.

Councilor Collinda J. Lee confirmed the taped conversations by councilor Walter Reynolds happened outside of the council’s public session three months ago.

“A council member asked a question about retaliation, and that's how it all got started,” Lee said last week.

According to Georgia's Sunshine Law, a public meeting is required when  a quorum of a government body or agency is present and “at which any official business, policy or public matter of the agency is formulated, presented, discussed or voted upon.”

City attorney Jimmy Jordan said council didn’t take any action during the taped discussion.

 David E. Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association, said regardless of whether action was taken, the public must be properly notified and the discussion open when a quorum of city councilors gather to “discuss or listen to public matters or issues.  Thus if they continued to discuss public business after the meeting was adjourned, that is a violation.”

Councilor Denese Shinholster said last Tuesday there are always people standing and talking after meetings. She didn't feel that the city violated any laws.

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