Did Morrow City Council break the law?
Or did they discipline the mayor without evidence?
Here is what the law says:
O.C.G.A 50-14-2(b)(2) “...This exception (allowing executive sessions) shall not apply to the receipt of evidence or when hearing argument on personnel matters, including whether to impose disciplinary action or dismiss a public officer or employee or when considering or discussing matters of policy regarding the employment or hiring practices of the agency. The vote on any matter covered by this paragraph shall be taken in public and minutes of the meeting as provided in this chapter shall be made available. Meetings by an agency to discuss or take action on the filling of a vacancy in the membership of the agency itself shall at all times be open to the public as provided in this chapter.”
Here is what the Morrow City Council did:
• Called an executive session Nov. 5;
• Met, then recessed into executive session with the mayor, the city manager and city clerk;
• Returned from executive session and said they had not reached a decision but would announce a decision at the Nov. 13 city council meeting;
• Wrote a letter dated Nov. 6, saying the city council had reached a decision, having “unanimously agreed,” to take disciplinary action against the mayor.
• The City of Morrow, when queried by the Clayton News Daily, stated that during its executive session that “no evidence or argument” was presented in the executive session.
So, the Georgia Open Meetings Act specifically states that the exception in the Act that allows a city council to go into executive session does not apply to a meeting for “receipt of evidence or when hearing argument on personnel matters, including whether to impose disciplinary action.” However, Morrow City Council obviously, based on the letter dated Nov. 6, met in executive session for that express purpose, viz. to hear evidence and arguments to consider disciplinary action. When a city official told the newspaper Thursday the meeting was not in violation of the Open Meeting Act, does that mean city council made a decision to discipline the mayor that was based on “no evidence,” and “no arguments?” Seriously?
And, the Georgia Open Meetings Act specifically says, “voting on any matter,” is to be done in public. The Morrow City Council, based on the Nov. 6 letter, obviously voted outside of an open public meeting because the letter states, “The Council Members have unanimously agreed.”
By the way, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Can the Morrow city charter trump the First Amendment?
The irony of all ironies in this situation is that the very city council that has brought and acted on very spurious allegations against the city’s popularly elected mayor, alleging he has violated a city charter, appears to have violated state law itself.
What is the supposed ethics breach by the mayor? He said something that someone did not like? He asked questions that made some uncomfortable? He spoke with a city employee? He usurped the authority of a city manager, who is not an elected official? Anyone can say at anytime they were intimidated, humiliated or threatened, can they not?
If, for an example, a department head in Morrow gives a report, or shows a budget overview and another member of the city council were to say, “That’s not enough information, why is your report incomplete?” Is the council going to discipline that elected official because the city employee was embarrassed by the question being asked in an open public meeting? What if council members dared to roll their eyes if someone said something they disagreed with in a meeting? Would that be humiliation? What if the mayor pro tempore were speaking when the mayor has the floor during a meeting? Is that humiliation? Does that deserve discipline? Who wants to open this can of worms?
The Morrow City Council has.
Citizens of Morrow, this is your government. Take control of it, because it is out of control. Citizens of Morrow, you elected this mayor. You have every right to make known your displeasure with this action by the city council.
The city council cannot have it both ways. Either they had a meeting to consider disciplining the mayor and heard evidence and arguments against the mayor in violation of the Open Meetings Act. Or, they wrote a letter taking action against the mayor with no evidence or argument against him.
Either way, their actions would be unacceptable and likely illegal.
Citizens of Morrow, if you want to challenge action taken in a meeting that violates state law, you must do so within 90 days of the alleged violation (O.C.G.A. 50-14-1(b) (2)).
Members of the Morrow City Council, you should know criminal penalties for a willful violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act are $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for the second offense.
Editor Jim Zachary