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Court allows closed meeting, but requires release of minutes

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    NMU         NORTH CAROLINA         Freedom of Information         Aug 17, 2001    

Court allows closed meeting, but requires release of minutes

  • A newspaper wins the right to the minutes of a meeting to discuss a potential race-track closure, even though reporters could not attend the meeting.

A North Carolina appellate court has determined that a county board of commissioners did not violate the state’s open meetings laws by conducting a closed meeting, but that it did violate the public records law by not releasing minutes of the meeting after describing some of the information to the public.

On Aug. 7, the Court of Appeals in Raleigh found the discussions between the Henderson County Board of Commissioners and its staff attorney Jennifer Jackson were exempt from the public meetings statute under the attorney-client privilege. The Asheville Citizen Times challenged the closure because the topic of conversation was about a moratorium on construction or operation of race tracks to study noise pollution. The newspaper argued the details of the November 1998 meeting were a matter of public policy.

The court disagreed with this assessment and found the minutes of the meeting showed there was “no discussion of general policy matters or the propriety of the moratorium at issue.”

However, the court did require the county to pay the newspaper’s attorneys’ fees because the county violated the public records laws by failing to release the minutes. The court said the commission had a duty to release the minutes because it reconvened the meeting after the closed session and informed the public that Jackson had suggested some amendments to the moratorium. By recounting Jackson’s role in a public setting, the court said, the purpose of the closed session would no longer be frustrated.

The trial court had determined that the issues discussed in the closed meeting did include general policy matters and those issues should have been discussed in an open meeting.

(Multimedia Pub. of North Carolina, Inc. v. Henderson County; Media counsel: James Gary Rowe; Asheville, N.C.) CC

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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