The city of Columbus has filed an appeal of the Mississippi Ethics Commission’s final order issued Friday that states the mayor and council violated parts of the state’s Open Meetings Act earlier this year.
The appeal, filed Tuesday by city council attorney Jeff Turnage on behalf of the mayor and council, asks for a new trial or hearing on the matter to take place in Lowndes County Chancery Court.
The Ethics Commission on Friday issued an order stating the council and mayor violated three sections of the Open Meetings Act “when they established a quorum of the council by holding two separate gatherings on each date and discussing the same matter over which the council has authority without providing public access, providing notice or recording minutes.”
The pre-arranged meetings — each attended by two or three councilmen — took place in January and February. They concerned the city’s retail partnership with the Golden Triangle Development LINK and project management on the Trotter Convention Center renovation. The Dispatch filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission after becoming aware of the meetings.
The Ethics Commission’s final order, in addition to stating that the city violated parts of the state’s Open Meetings Act, also ordered the council and mayor to refrain from “further violations.”
“The city will comply with the Ethics Commission’s final order although we do not agree with it,” Turnage told The Dispatch on Wednesday. “And we will continue to abide by it until it is reversed — if it is reversed.”
The council and mayor contend that the Open Meetings Act does not prohibit non-quorum meetings of the city council. Since the meetings in question were gatherings of “less than a majority” of the city’s six council members, the state’s Open Meetings Act laws are not applicable, according to written responses the city sent to the Ethics Commission.
The next step in the appeal process is for a scheduling order to be issued, and a hearing will be scheduled.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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