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Attorney not sure if city broke state law
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McMinnville officials may have to wait for a lawsuit by a city resident to find out if their procedures violated the open meetings act when they renewed the city administrator’s contract Sept. 25.
During Tuesday night’s meeting, Vice Mayor Everett Brock asked the city’s legal council if a violation occurred only to be met without advice.
“I’m going to say that is an opinion for a court,” said city attorney Tim Pirtle. “I certainly cannot speak for a court.”
In order for a court to decide, someone has to sue the city of McMinnville.
“So a lawsuit would be the only way to determine this,” said Brock. “Maybe the person who wrote the letter to the comptroller should take us to court?”
Pirtle stated, “I’m certainly not inviting or encouraging anybody to sue the city.”
Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, the organization that oversees procedures of municipalities, sent a letter dated Nov. 5 to Mayor Norman Rone in regard to a complaint received about city procedure used to renew the contract of city administrator David Rutherford.
In the letter, Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said he could not say for certain the board violated the law, but he cited a similar case in the city of Coopertown and encouraged officials to confer with their attorney.
In McMinnville, officials met for a regular session. The meeting’s agenda did not include Rutherford’s contract renewal. The item, which was sent to the full board by Finance Committee members who met earlier that night, was added to the board’s agenda, voted on and passed that same night. The item was listed on the committee’s agenda.
In Coopertown, officials met for a regular session. The meeting’s agenda did not include the resignation or appointment of a new member. A member of the board made it known to at least some of the other members that he planned to resign at the meeting. He did resign, and board members nominated and appointment a replacement that night.
A court concluded in the Coopertown case that this was “relatively speaking, a very important issue” and should have been added to the agenda for members of the community.
Pirtle drafted a response letter to the state and presented it to the board Tuesday night. However, it only stated the procedure the city took on Sept. 25 and did not provide a finding by him as to the legality of the procedure.
The reply letter did state the city has used the procedure of discussing items in committee and sending them before the full board that same night for years.
“The city recorder informs me, and it has been my observation from attending meetings of the board and its committees for two years while serving as city attorney, that it is not uncommon for committee agenda items to be presented, discussed, and voted by the committees at meetings immediately proceeding regular meetings to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen where action is taken by the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.”
Likely leading to the complaint now was the controversy surrounding Rutherford’s new contract that, among other items, increased his salary by $17,000 and increased the number of board votes required to terminate his employment with the city, which went from four votes to five.
Legal action may not reverse what was done Sept. 25.
“I will say that I have not read a legal opinion or a court decision where an action of a government entity was voided on facts similar to these,” said Pirtle.
No action was taken to change city procedure. The letter drafted by Pirtle will be sent to the comptroller’s office.