A town hall meeting that will include a majority of the Lee County Board of Commissioners was originally intended strictly for members of the gated Carolina Trace community, according to a public notice released by the county today. After it was contacted by The Rant shortly after the notice’s release and asked about the legality of the meeting, the county sent The Rant a revision of the notice that stated anybody interested can have the guards at Trace contact Lloyd Jennings …
… yes, that Lloyd Jennings — the founder of the Lee County Chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a Virginia-based conservative political advocacy group that has helped fund the campaigns of local Tea Party candidates in the Republican party in recent years.
With the revision, a story about a gathering that would potentially violate the state’s open meetings laws became a story about a public meeting where Trace “outsiders” have to go through AFP’s president for admittance. In other words … the story got better.
The purpose of the meeting sounds innocent enough — Trace residents will hear a “briefing on what the board has accomplished this past year and receive comments” from Trace residents. The problem with the initial notice was the line, “Since the meeting is being held in a gated community, only residents from Carolina Trace will be allowed to attend.” Article 143-318.10 of the N.C. General Statute on open meetings reads, “Each official meeting of a public body shall be open to the public, and any person is entitled to attend such a meeting.” An “official meeting,” according to the statute, is a gathering of members of a public body for the purpose of “conducting hearings, participating in deliberations or voting upon or otherwise transacting the public business within the jurisdiction, real or apparent, of the public body.”
Social meetings or other informal gatherings are exempt under state sunshine laws, but the public notice of this meeting states that “transacting the public business” will take place — “[the board] will receive comments as to where citizens believe the board should concentrate efforts in the upcoming budget year.” States differ on their ideas on what makes a social gathering as opposed to a public meeting, and North Carolina’s statute isn’t as clear as the state of Washington, which defines a meeting as a gathering that discusses public business (as opposed to “transacting” in North Carolina). The General Statute does not include any exemptions for meetings held in private or gated communities.
The revised notice also states that the commissioners have planned additional town hall meetings in different locations in the coming months (which doesn’t make the Trace meeting any more special or exempt).
Both notices (and the meeting announcement in today’s Sanford Herald) are attached below.
THE OLD NOTICE
THE NEW NOTICE