Open Records Counsel eyes Veazey’s claim
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG Banner Staff Writer
Dec 17, 2013 | 1083 views | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The Bradley County Commission voted on an animal control contract for county residents despite the controversy that had been surrounding the Commission’s animal control ad hoc committee.

On Dec. 9, the committee met to discuss proposals from two nonprofit organizations — The Ark of Cleveland and the SPCA of Bradley County — vying for the chance to run the county’s animal control services. Both organizations had also given proposals to another committee that included both members of the Cleveland City Council and the Bradley County Commission.

At the meeting, the county’s committee voted to recommend to the full Bradley County Commission that it vote to sign a contract with SPCA.

Not long after, Rachel Veazey, a community representative on the city and county joint ad hoc committee, accused the county-only committee of breaking the law.

Veazey alleged that the county ad hoc committee had violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, also known as “the Sunshine Law.”

That law is what requires government meetings to be open to the public, and Tennessee Code Annotated section 8-44-103 reads that “any such governmental body which holds a meeting previously scheduled by statute, ordinance, or resolution shall give adequate public notice of such meeting.”

Veazey said the county’s committee did not give enough notice of the meeting and she did not feel representatives from both The Ark and the SPCA were given the notice they needed to attend and debate the issue.

The recommendation from the county ad hoc committee voted on Dec. 9 was decided after only comments from representatives of the SPCA were heard.

While the committee’s meeting information was posted on the Bradley County website and the media was represented at the meeting, Veazey argued the committee still violated the law.

She said she reported the matter to the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Open Records Counsel, which has the authority to force a group in violation of the law to meet and vote again.

“Since they are voting because of this illegal ad hoc meeting’s recommendation, I can push the issue that way,” Veazey said in an email to the Cleveland Daily Banner that appeared to have been written while the Bradley County Commission’s meeting was in progress. “They will have to make the ad hoc meeting right.”

Veazey did not attend Monday’s session of the County Commission.

In a letter addressed to Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones, the ad hoc committee’s chair, Elisha Hodge of the Open Records Counsel, said she and her colleagues would continue to look into the matter.

“I cannot say for certain whether or not the board violated the Open Meetings Act,” Hodge said in her letter, which Veazey provided to the newspaper. “However, based solely on the information that has been presented to this office, it appears that a violation of the Open Meetings Act may have occurred.”

In her letter to Peak-Jones, Hodge suggested she seek legal counsel on that issue because, under state law, “a citizen has a right to bring a lawsuit against an entity when he/she feels that an open meetings violation has occurred.”

During Monday’s County Commission meeting, Peak-Jones acknowledged the allegations and said she would remove the committee’s recommendation from the voting agenda because of the potential legal issue.

“I’m going to pull that from the agenda … in an abundance of caution,” Peak-Jones said.

Instead, she introduced a substitute resolution to the Commission that solely listed her as the one recommending the measure, which was allowed.

After Peak-Jones and other commissioners debated it, the resolution was approved. The Commission granted the SPCA with the contract, despite the county ad hoc committee’s recommendation having been removed from the table.

Veazey’s absence from the County Commission meeting meant she could not offer input during the time set aside for public comment. In addition, she could not be reached for comment by the Banner between the Monday’s meeting and this morning’s press deadlines.