November 16, 2012 10:17:08 AM
Starkville Mayor Parker Wiseman said the city will not challenge a preliminary report by the Mississippi Ethics Commission that says the city violated three sections of the state Open Meetings Act.
Starkville resident William McGovern filed the complaint with the Commission in July in connection with a January board of aldermen work session involving the city's municipal complex.
McGovern's complaint alleges the city did not keep official minutes of the meeting and prior notice was not properly given.
In accordance with state statutes, any public body that holds official meetings must keep a written record of officials who attended, as well as any actions taken. Meetings must also be open to the public, and prior notice should be posted no later than one hour after setting such a meeting.
Section 25-41-13 of Mississippi Code states, "Any public body which holds its meetings at such times and places and by such procedures as are specifically prescribed by statute shall continue to do so and no additional notice of such meetings shall be required except that a notice of the place, date, hour and subject matter of any recessed meeting, adjourned meeting, interim meeting or any called special meeting shall be posted within one hour after such meeting is called in a prominent place available to examination and inspection by the general public in the building in which the public body normally meets."
The violation claims against the city are procedural, and MEC Executive Director Tom Hood, who made the preliminary recommendation, said the violations did not appear malicious.
"I'm not aware of anyone not knowing about the retreat; it appears that everyone in the public and everyone on the board knew about the retreat," Hood said. "I think it was more of a failure to follow some of the technical aspects."
Hood added that all three violations involved the same meeting.
Both the complainant and the city were sent the preliminary report Nov. 2, and as long as neither McGovern nor the city contest the report, Hood's recommendation will go to the MEC.
The MEC will then decide how to handle the matter.
Hood's recommendation asked the Board of Aldermen to refrain from further violations and comply strictly with the requirements in Sections 25-41-5, 25-41-11 and 25-41-13.
While acknowledging the validity of the claims, Wiseman was adamant that there was no intent by the board to hide any of the proceedings from the press or public.
"The law is what it is," Wiseman said. "Bottom line, it is somewhat strange to think that you have a meeting announced twice at public meetings of when and where it is going to be, you have press that knows, attends and covers the meeting, and it's still a violation of the Open Meetings Act.
"The Ethics Commission can take punitive measures, and I think it is noteworthy that their recommendation was (for us) to abide by the guidelines in the future."
Wiseman said he will make sure all city committees are aware of the necessary codes.
"With respect to our committees, I am going to ask the city attorney to prepare a memo to all of our committee chairs detailing steps that they need to take in regards to notification of committee meetings and taking minutes of committee meetings," he said.
The city is also awaiting a ruling by the Oktibbeha County Chancery Court concerning the passing of bonds to fund a new municipal complex for Starkville.