Jay Calendine, a Lee County political activist and proverbial thorn in the side for the county’s Republican-majority board of commissioners, filed a lawsuit against the board today seeking a final order from the court that the county refrain from meetings that violate the North Carolina General Statute.
The suit names the board as a whole and individual commissioners Charlie Parks, Kirk Smith and Andre Knecht, all three Repubilcans and all three who were present at the March 6 meeting held at Carolina Trace. Links to previous Rant stories on this meeting are below.
- March 4: County revises public notice after legality of meeting is questioned
- March 6: Trace public meeting more resembles GOP rally
- March 12: Email shows commissioners were previously warned of liability of meeting
- March 18: County releases full memo of email warning commissioners
- March 19: Commissioner apologizes for Carolina Trace meeting
According to the lawsuit, Calendine drove to the Carolina Trace gate to attend the open meeting and was turned away because he refused to give his name (requiring any form of ID to attend a meeting is against state open meeting laws). Calendine asked the Trace security guard to contact Lloyd Jennings, the founder of Lee County’s right-leaning Americans for Prosperity, who was listed in the county’s public notice as a point of contact for those having problems getting in. The security guard informed Calendine that he would not contact Jennings unless Calendine gave his name. (VIDEO ABOVE)
Calendine returned 15 minutes later and was asked his name again. He relented and gave it so he could attend the meeting. The lawsuit mentions “Republican Party literature conspicuously placed” at the tables heading into the meeting, and mentions several Republicans — candidates and elected officials — speaking at what was advertised as a “town hall meeting.”
Calendine is seeking five results from his suit. First, that the court declare the county’s actions “illegal and unlawful” and enjoin the board and the individual commissioners from holding another such meeting again in the future. He’s also asking that the county and commissioners be taxed with attorney’s fees for the costs of the suit and the commissioners named taxed personally for “knowingly and intentionally committing the violations.” Finally, the suit asks the court “for such other and further relief as the court may deem just, fit and proper.”
“The Open Meetings Law was written to ensure that North Carolina’s public bodies conduct the people’s business in the full light of day,” Calendine told The Rant on Friday. “The board, led by Charlie Parks, ignored its own attorney’s advice and moved forward with an illegal meeting that was impossible for any person to attend without giving his name and being issued a permit, unless of course, that person happened to live in Trace. And, the legal standard for published minutes is that any person who didn’t attend could reasonably understand what happened. The official minutes of that meeting fail to meet that standard.”
Calendine said his intentions are to “make a statement” so future closed-government actions will never happen again in the county.
“I filed this injunction on behalf of the public because I believe in the power of democracy and the rule of law,” he added. “I believe that when the government breaks the law, the only entities which can come to the rescue against corruption are a free press and free citizens. The law provides an outlet for free citizens to challenge their government. While the press has reported on this, and has in many ways done its duty, this is the citizen response which ought to be made.”