Executive session, its recording in Hobson City could run afoul of state law
by Eddie Burkhalter
eburkhalter@annistonstar.com
Nov 17, 2012 | 3719 views |  0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A feature of a newly installed security system at Hobson City Town Hall was used to record audio of a closed-door meeting held by the Town Council on Monday, possibly running afoul of state laws governing such meetings.

And the closed-door executive session itself may have been an illegally conducted meeting, according to state law.

Workers installed a microphone in Hobson City Mayor Alberta McCrory’s office at Town Hall while installing the rest of the security system in the building in early November. McCrory cited a rash of break-ins at the Town Hall in recent years when making a case for the purchase of the new security system after Monday’s meeting.

Council members Susie Jones and Freddie Striplin said by phone Friday that Monday’s executive session was recorded using the microphone hung from the ceiling of McCrory’s office. McCrory said by phone Friday that the meeting was recorded, but that she was not aware that recording executive session meetings was illegal, and that she will not record such meetings in the future.

According to numerous state attorney general office opinions, the practice of taking minutes during an executive session is prohibited by law.

“No minutes should be taken at portions of meetings held in executive session,” then-Attorney General Bill Pryor wrote in a 2004 opinion.

That opinion continued, “This Office has previously stated that no minutes should be taken at portions of board meetings that are held in executive session and that are not subject to public disclosure under the Sunshine Law.”

Alabama Press Association attorney Dennis Bailey reiterated the opinions of the Attorney General on Friday, writing in an email to The Star that, “According to the open meetings act, a civil statute, no minutes are to be taken at executive sessions.”

Jones also expressed concern that the $4,500 system was installed weeks before the council voted to approve the purchase at Monday’s council meeting, something that is required for town purchases of more than $400, Jones said.

Asked why the microphone was installed, McCrory said it was for “safety issues. Real concerns I had for my personal safety.”

Asked if the microphone was installed for fear of a break-in at the office, McCrory said no, that it was installed because of “the folks already in there that I was scared of.”

In addition to questions about the legality of recording the meeting, there are questions about the legality of the executive session itself. Jones said she does not believe the meeting was legal, and state law shows she may be correct.

The council went behind closed doors to discuss two nominees for the position of city clerk — Sheila Jones and Jessie Lancaster, who held the position at the time. The council voted to appoint Jones after the 20-minute executive session.

Councils can enter into closed, executive sessions to talk about the job performance of certain public employees only in certain circumstances, but according to the Alabama Open Meetings Act, executive sessions cannot occur “if the person is an elected or appointed public official, an appointed member of a state or local board or commission, or a public employee who is one of the classification of public employees required to file a statement of economic interests with the Alabama Ethics Commission pursuant to Section 36-25-14.”

The Alabama Ethics Commission lists “chief clerks” and “chief municipal clerks” as persons who have to file statements of economic interest.

McCrory said she believes the executive session was held legally, because the council was discussing the good name of a person and not the appointment itself.

“Because there were people present (at the council meeting) and to keep people from running out with all kinds of information that would cause further harm to the city as a whole. That was the reason for doing it that way,” McCrory said.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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