City charter affirms closed meeting was illegal

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

PORTERDALE -- City Councilman Robert Foxworth Tuesday night succeeded in his effort to have the City Council readdress issues that he said were discussed in an illegal closed meeting; however, the outcome of those discussions was unchanged.

Foxworth had walked out of a June 28 called City Council meeting, claiming that the council could not legally change the agenda of a called meeting to add a closed session. Council members had called the closed session in order to review resumes for the positions of Municipal Court solicitor and judge.

In response to Foxworth's objections, City Attorney Tim Chambers advised the council at a later meeting that it was not illegal to change the agenda of a called meeting under the state's Open Meetings Law. However, Foxworth said in reading the city's charter last weekend, he discovered that the charter does prohibit the council from changing the agenda of a called meeting. Chambers agreed Tuesday with Foxworth's interpretation and verified that, under the charter, nothing can be added to the agenda of a called meeting.

At Tuesday night's called meeting, the council readdressed the issues that were discussed in the closed session on June 28, reaffirming a committee that was established to review resumes of solicitor and judge applicants. The committee is made up of City Attorney Tim Chambers, Mayor Bobby Hamby, Councilwoman Arline Chapman, City Manager Bob Thomson and Police Chief Geoff Jacobs.

Councilwoman Linda Finger made the motion to reaffirm the committee, with Chapman seconding. Foxworth was opposed; Councilman Mike Harper abstained due to uncertainties over legalities with the process; and Councilman Lowell Chambers voted in favor.

Foxworth said that he had a problem with Chapman serving on the committee since he said she has previously voiced strong opinions regarding Municipal Court Judge David Strickland and recently resigned solicitor Qader Baig, and he believes she is biased against them.

Chapman strenuously objected, saying that any discussions of the solicitor and judge took place in closed session and should not be disclosed in public. Chapman said that Foxworth was "in violation of the executive session" and called on the city manager to investigate the matter and possibly have Foxworth censured.

Chapman said Wednesday she was considering the possibility of an investigation of Foxworth's actions but was unsure if she would pursue the matter.

David Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association, said Wednesday that government officials are free to comment on matters discussed in closed session without penalty.

"It is totally within the discretion of a government member whether to disclose what is said at a closed meeting," Hudson said. "There is no penalty for doing so, and any attempt to penalize would have serious Constitutional problems due to the restriction on free speech."

Chapman also said that Foxworth had inaccurately represented her opinions of the former solicitor and judge.

"How do you deal with something like this?" Chapman said Wednesday. "It's one of those things where I would hate for anybody in the local judiciary to read that I had been the axe person, but once it's out there, it's out there."