State Supreme Court guts Open Meetings Act
by Jack Mcneely
Jun 24, 2012 | 598 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jack Mcneely
Jack Mcneely
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In a slim, 5-4 split decision recently the Alabama Supreme Court crippled the state’s Open Meeting Act.

The Court ruled on a case that originated in Montgomery County in 2009 when Clay Slagle sued the county board of education after a committee made up of board members allegedly met in private to discuss the hiring of a new superintendent. Slagle had served as interim superintendent from April to July 2009.

According to initial reports, there was conflicting evidence as to the nature of the discussion that occurred between the school board members that attended the committee meeting.

Slagle later testified that, at a meeting of the school board held in July 2009 one board member commented about a previously held “secret meeting” of board members. The board members that attended the committee meeting in June denied that they discussed the upcoming superintendent hiring.

The justices, during their most recent session, ultimately ruled that although the board of education formed three special committees covered by the Open Meetings Act, no meeting of the committee occurred because what they discussed was going to be voted upon later by the entire school board and not the committee.

In other words, when committees are created to avoid public meetings and to deliberate on matters that are going to come before the entire body later, they do not violate the Open Meetings Act.

I declare that as hogwash!

As a newspaper publisher in the State of Alabama, I fear this ruling will dilute our constitutional rights and hinder our efforts to hold governmental bodies accountable for their actions.

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On a personal note, my daughter passed her driver’s test this week here in Jasper. She is excited; her mother and I are proud.

I recall the commercial where the father hands his keys to a small girl in the driver’s seat. After a few instructions from the protective father, the girl is actually grown and appears ready for her first solo driving experience. I empathize with that father.

Jack McNeely is Publisher of the Daily Mountain Eagle and can be reached by phone at 205-221-2840 or via email at jack.mcneely@mountaineagle.com.