Meridian Star

Local News

December 12, 2009

Did supes violate open meetings law?

Officials’ stories don’t match

By Jennifer Jacob Brown

jbrown@themeridianstar.com



When it comes to what went on in the most recent closed meeting of the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors, recollections vary quite a bit.

The board went into closed session at their regular meeting on Monday, and Board Attorney Rick Barry said the board was using the closed session to discuss litigation, one of the exemptions under state law whereby public officials can exclude the public.

But one supervisor said they discussed at least two other topics, which is a violation of the state's Open Meetings law. District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell said the board discussed a request from Meridian Mayor Cheri Barry for the county to pay half of the city's annual $30,000 payment to lobbyist Beth Clay, who is one of the state's top lobbyists. The City of Meridian is one of Clay's clients. She works with the city to lobby legislators on laws that could impact the Meridian area.

Boswell also said board members discussed the credit card usage of District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood, who Boswell said was not present during either conversation.

Both of these topics involve the usage of county funds, which by law must be discussed by the board during open meetings. Three other supervisors, however, said nothing but litigation was discussed.

"We really hadn't gotten into the meat of the session, and that's when it was brought up," Boswell said of the discussion of the payment for lobbying work. "(Norwood) was coming on his way back when (Board President Hank Florey) asked everybody (about Clay's salary) and I said not no, but H-E-L-L no, we won't give a dime to them. And nobody would say anything."

Boswell said after the discussion on Clay's payment, County Administrator Mike Sumrall brought up Norwood's credit card usage.

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