Well, when county commissioners decide to ignore the law, they can really go whole hog.
In addition to the board chairman’s attempt to shut down this newspaper’s reporter when he tried to remind them of the requirements of the Open Meetings Law before they went into closed session on Monday [see separate editorial above], someone needed to have reminded them of the law’s additional requirements when they came out of their closed-door huddle an hour-and-a-half later.
Among other issues, while in closed session, the commissioners apparently determined to fire county attorney Clyde Albright.
We say “apparently” inasmuch as not a public word was mentioned about the firing until Wednesday morning when the attorney was finally told of his dismissal; officials stood by while he packed his belongings before exiting the building.
Trouble is that the North Carolina Open Meetings Law actually requires that they disclose what they did in closed session when they fire someone. Let’s just quote the law in hopes that most people, if not commissioners, can understand the plain meaning of the English language: “Final action making an appointment or discharge or removal by a public body having final authority for the appointment or discharge or removal shall be taken in an open meeting.”
This is not some obscure, hidden provision of the law. It is in the exact same section that the chairman cited in deciding to go into the closed meeting.
We’ll readily acknowledge that we do not understand the dissatisfaction with the county’s attorney, who has served boards of varying stripes and party preferences for the past 13 years.
It seems to us that one perceived gripe might be that he has tried to get commissioners to put on the brakes when they have wandered far afield of the law. This current board has little reverence for the law, preferring to substitute their political preferences for legal safeguards that are supposed to be provided to all residents.
The obfuscation and double-talk from the board’s chairman, in trying to present a rationale to wriggle out of having violated the law, is beginning to be humorous, if not pathetic. It’s as though, not satisfied with being in hot water, the chairman wants to make the predicament for himself and his board in boiling hot.
We also have to note that the presence of two attorneys as members of the board of commissioners may have complicated matters as they apparently attempted to second-guess their own attorney whose area of expertise (for decades) is public policy law.
There’s an old adage, attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that a person who represents himself has a fool for a client.
Commissioners are probably not going to explain much of their reasoning for firing the county attorney, although presumably they will – sooner or later at least – have to explain how they actually voted on it.
Meanwhile, we won’t be surprised at all to see the ousted attorney practice his own legal skills, which have been pretty considerable, against his former employers or hire someone specializing in the area of public personnel law to file a lawsuit against the commissioners, precisely for this blatant and intentional violation of the Open Meetings Law.
Another less well known provision of the Open Meetings Law is that when there are violations of the law, a judge can invalidate any of the decisions made during the illegal meeting.
So the county attorney may end up getting his job back or, more likely, receive a huge settlement from the county for the commissioners’ haste, bravado, and unnecessary secrecy.