City leaders discuss open meetings laws

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2005

DEMOPOLIS-Demopolis Mayor Cecil P. Williamson held a special meeting yesterday with boards, commissions, committees and task forces to discuss how the new Open Meetings Act of 2005 would apply to them.

Williamson hit all the high points of the new act including to whom it applied. Williamson said if more than 50 percent of the board appointed or if funded.

“If you are thinking that your entity does not fall under the Open Meetings Act, the only one that does not fall under in the City of Demopolis is the Tombigbee Healthcare Authority,” Williamson said. “They are accepted because they were accepted in the old Sunshine Law. If the city appoints your members or you are financed by the city that makes you fall under the category of the Open Meetings Act.”

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As for those who do fall under the act, Williamson said they must make their meeting times public.

“Any prearranged meeting has to be notified to the news media and the public,” Williamson said. “You need to look at your calendar and make sure your meetings do not fall on a holiday such as Labor Day because we can’t wait until that Friday to contact people. Every prearranged meeting of every body that has quorum.”

Meetings include all subcommittee and executive committee meetings. Williamson also pointed out minutes from meetings should be submitted to City Hall. The minutes should include members, present and absent, actions and the next meeting date. Williamson added agendas should also be publicized.

Williamson said there were means the public could take to be informed of their meetings of choice in the city.

“Should a member of the public come to city hall and say they want to be notified of every single meeting in the city they have the right to do that,” Williamson said. “There is a form they can fill out and they have to be notified of every single meeting in the city.”

Can choose the means people are notified, whether it is e-mail, regular mail, or Federal Express. The person requesting the information also has to pay.

Voting was another important topic touched on at the meeting. Williamson said there were specific means for casting votes in a public meeting.

“All voting must be done in public,” Williamson said. “There are no secret ballots. Everything must be done in public. It doesn’t mean you have to vote individually, but it does mean you can’t vote by a show of hands. It is voice voting.”

The final topic tackled at the meeting was how to properly go into Executive Session

“First you have to call the meeting to order,” Williamson said. “That is the first thing you have to do. Then you must state the reason you are going into executive session. There are nine reasons you can go into executive session and those are the only reasons.”

Williamson said they must also state when they will reconvene. She said when meetings are complete, and those particular minutes have been made official they must be submitted to city hall.