The City of Williamson may have broken the Sunshine Law in regards to a special meeting they held on Thursday, July 30. The meeting was the first to discuss a huge hike in the water and sewage rates.
In part the Sunshine Law states: “Public notice of the meeting date and agenda must be made available in advance of a meeting to the public and news media.”
When the Mayor and City Council held the meeting at 1:00 p.m. on July 30, the Williamson Daily News (WDN) had not been notified.
Time requirements for posting a meeting notice are as follows:
· State agencies – State agencies must file a notice of any meeting with the Secretary of State at least five business days prior to the date of the meeting.
· Other governing bodies – Notice must be given in a reasonable manner. When a governing body meets in accordance with a fixed schedule, such as the second and fourth Monday of each month, it may comply with the meeting notice requirement in the Act by annually posting notice of the date, time and place of these regular meetings or regular committee meetings for the coming year, and keeping this notice posted throughout the year.
· Regular meetings – For governing bodies which do not have a fixed schedule for meetings, these bodies may comply with the Open Meetings Act by posting a notice three business days in advance of the meeting.
· Special meetings – When a governing body meets on an irregular schedule, or needs to meet before the next regularly scheduled meeting to address matters that do not involve an emergency, these are considered special meetings. Notice must be posted two business days in advance of the meeting.
In calculating days, do not count the day of the meeting, weekend days or state or federal holidays. State agencies, however, have additional obligations for posting a meeting notice.
“Although state agencies may conduct a special meeting, i.e., a meeting held between regularly scheduled meetings, due to the more restrictive language in the Open Meetings Act, the agency must provide the meeting notice to the Secretary of State at least five business days prior to the date of the special meeting. State agencies may not call an emergency meeting for a subject that is not a true emergency. Failure to file a timely notice of meeting with the Secretary of State’s Office does not constitute an emergency,” the law states.
What must a notice include? The law states a Special meeting notice must be two business days before the meeting.
The WDN receives the agendas with the dates and times for meetings in advance from the Mingo County Commission and the Mingo County Board of Education. However, the WDN was never officially informed of either of these two meetings.
Many citizens of Williamson have also been upset at the time these special meetings have been held, the first one that was held on July 30 and the session held on Monday, August 17. Both meetings were at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. The regular monthly meetings are usually held at 6:00 p.m., making it easier for those who work to attend.
Is there a reason that they were held at 1:00 p.m.? Is it because the government officials did not want residents and customers to come to the meetings to voice their opinions?
There have been photos and videos posted on social media that shows there was a large crowd and the meeting got a little rowdy at times on Monday. In fact the Mayor threatened to have people removed.
But the real question here is were there any laws broken by the City of Williamson in respect to the Open Meetings Act?