After receiving a warning letter from the state, McMinnville’s new Board of Mayor and Aldermen could be looking at making some changes to city procedure.
Comptroller of the Treasury Justin Wilson sent a letter to the city Nov. 5 warning officials about a long-standing procedure that could be against the state’s open meetings act, that of adding items to the agenda during meetings.
The situation was spurred by a meeting held Sept. 25 where officials voted to renew the contract of city administrator David Rutherford. The meeting’s agenda did not mention the measure, which was sent to the full board by Finance Committee members who met earlier that night. The item was added to the agenda once the meeting began.
Once seated on Nov. 27, the new board will consist of Aldermen Jimmy Bonner, Mike Neal, Ben Newman, Billy Wood, Rick Barnes and Mayor Jimmy Haley.
Bonner says he is in favor of making a change in procedure.
“If the committee decides they want to send something to the full board, it needs to go to the next meeting of the board and not that same night,” said Bonner. “The public needs to be aware of what’s going on. Voting on it the same night doesn’t allow time for that. We oversee the city, but we work for the public.”
Neal says he wants to increase the notice requirement in order to give the public a chance to voice opinions and allow officials time to look over issues prior to voting.
“I believe, and I’m going to push for this as hard as I can, that we require a seven-day notice to the public on anything we consider,” said Neal. “Nothing should come out of committee and go before the board that night, unless it’s something that’s urgent.”
Newman says they need feedback from the community prior to any vote.
“It’s not a good idea to get things straight from the committee and vote on it,” said Newman. “You need feedback from the community. If you don’t get the feedback, then you are running the city behind the scenes.”
Haley is in agreement with the incoming aldermen.
“A full agenda needs to be posted and should not be amended or changed on the same night without giving aldermen a change to look over the issue,” said Haley.
Committee meetings were once held on different days from the board meetings. Haley says he wants to revert back to that procedure.
“We need to hold committee meetings on a different night so there would be time to add items to the agenda and for public notification,” he said. “Holding meetings on different nights gives citizens the ability to voice concerns and allows us time to study the issue before we vote.”
Wood says the city did not violate the open meetings act.
“We did not violate any law,” he said. “It is left up to each municipality to determine how much time to give to notify the public.”
State law only requires municipalities to give “adequate public notice” about any meetings of a governing body, without defining exactly what adequate public notice means.
Wood added, “The public was notified of the meeting and the item was listed on agenda of the Finance Committee meeting. If the new board wants to make a change to procedure, I’m fine with it.”
Alderman Barnes could not be reached for comment.