Nearly two weeks after holding a public town hall-style meeting in a private gated community, the chairman of the Lee County Board of Commissioners has issued an apology for the meeting in the form of a press release sent out Tuesday.
Charlie Parks, who won’t defend his seat in this year’s county election, admitted that “problems did arise” at the meeting, where some attendees – including Democratic comissioner Amy Dalyrmple – were forced to give their names at the Trace security gate in order to attend the meeting, a violation of North Carolina’s Open Meeting laws. In the first public notice about the meeting sent out by the county earlier this month, the county stated only residents of the gated Carolina Trace community were allowed to attend, another violation.
In his statement, Parks said the county made a “good faith attempt” to comply with the laws after a memo was sent to the commissioners from County Attorney Neil Yarborough warning them of potential legal problems. Parks wrote that if the town hall meetings were to continue this year, no more meetings would be scheduled in private communities.
Charlie Parks, County Commissioner
As has been publicized, for some time now, I have wanted to have a series of Town Hall Meetings to receive input on local government issues from citizens in the various parts of the county. One of the places I selected for this town hall type meeting was Carolina Trace which was geographically convenient to one area of our community and had a nice meeting facility. After the initial advertisements were made of this public meeting, I became aware of the fact that there may have been problems related to North Carolina’s Open Meetings Law. In fact, the county attorney gave me certain advice related to this issue and provided me with a method of addressing certain access issues if I decided to proceed with the meeting.
After reviewing the county attorney’s memo and realizing that people had already planned to attend, I decided it would be best to go ahead and have the meeting in that it was already scheduled and announced and to attempt to implement the necessary access safeguards to insure compliance. As it turned out, for a variety of reasons, despite my best efforts, problems did arise and for this I am sorry. However, a good faith attempt was made to comply with the Open Meetings Law and no Board action was taken at this meeting.
Finally, realizing, from experience, the difficulties in having a public meeting at a privately owned location, it is my intention to never call such a meeting again in the future. If my plan of holding geographically disbursed Town Hall Meetings is to continue, they will occur in publicly owned facilities.