Clayton DA accuses commissioners of violating Open Meetings Act

Clayton County’s district attorney has asked a judge to throw out a number of decisions the county commission made in October, November and December because, she said, the governing body violated the state Open Meetings Law.

DA Tracy Graham Lawson said the commission added agenda items moments before the start of nine meetings and then voted on those issues even though they were not described as urgent.

“The law is the law and they were violating the law and I filed a motion because of that,” Lawson said Wednesday. A change in the law that took effect July 1 allows individuals to file civil allegations that the Open Meetings Act may have been violated.

Lawson is asking the court to void the board’s votes approving 15 board appointments and 10 resolutions, including one involving contracts for new recreation centers.

According to the document filed late Monday, the board’s meetings between Oct. 2 and Dec. 18 “had at least one, but usually more, add-ons to the agenda that were requested to be added during the pre-meeting. The minutes do not reflect for what ‘urgent business matter’ these items were added nor why it became necessary to add these items to the agenda. A failure to post the full agenda left the public unaware of the official business the Clayton County Board of Commissioners was about to conduct.”

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Many of the resolutions listed in the court document involved appointments to various county boards and authorities. One of the last-minute items, however, concerned the assignment of additional office space for the Probate Court. Lawson complained at the Dec. 11 meeting that there was no notice of the vote on allocation of office space she had requested for employees who collect court-ordered child support.

The other unpublicized votes included appointments to the Clayton County Development Authority, the Water Authority and the Tax Assessor, Zoning Advisory Group, Solid Waste Management, Regional Mental Health, Community Service and Elections boards. Votes on contracts and $10,000 appropriated for the Gee’s Bend Quilt exhibit also were added to agendas just before the meetings.

State law says agendas must be public a week in advance. County ordinance requires notice of agenda items be posted on the Friday before a regular meeting the following Tuesday. The law allows for urgent matters to be added later, but they must be explained.

The county commissioners who were behind the disputed votes — according to minutes of the meetings — are no longer in office and could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The county attorney said he could not comment on pending litigation.

“I think under the circumstances they have to do [the votes] over,” Lawson said. “If the judge grants my motion, the current Board of Commissioners will have to reconsider … all these matters.”

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