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Emergency meeting does not require notice to all local media

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  1. Freedom of Information
Emergency meeting does not require notice to all local media 05/17/99 ARKANSAS--Failure to notify all media organizations of an emergency…

Emergency meeting does not require notice to all local media

05/17/99

ARKANSAS–Failure to notify all media organizations of an emergency government meeting does not necessarily violate the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, the state Supreme Court in Little Rock held in mid-April.

The high court unanimously overturned an appellate court’s finding that notice must be given to “any and all news media located in the county where the meeting is to be held, even though no member of the media may request such notice.”

Arkansas open meeting law requires that under certain circumstances notice of emergency meetings must be provided to media organizations at least two hours prior to the start of any emergency meeting.

Properly interpreted, the notice provisions require that media outlets will be notified of emergency meetings only if they request such notice, the Supreme Court wrote. The lower court incorrectly interpreted the provisions as requiring notice to be provided to all media outlets in the county where the meeting is to be held regardless of whether a request was made, the high court concluded.

The case arose during the ouster of the Huntington City chief of police following the appointment of a new mayor. When the chief sought to remove his personal items from his office in city hall, he was confronted by the mayor and several city officials. Community resident Sue Burke, who observed the confrontation, inquired why the group was meeting and was purportedly told it was none of her business.

Two days later, the mayor and city counsel met formally to consider whether to terminate the chief or ask him to resign. No media representatives were notified of the earlier meeting and only one local newspaper received notice of the latter.

Burke then successfully filed suit, asserting that the city had violated the state’s notice provisions. The lower court held that the later meeting was voided when the city violated the open meetings law by only notifying the local newspaper and not other media outlets in the county.

Emergency notice must only be provided when it is requested in advance, the high court corrected. Because no media representatives had requested to be notified, the later meeting was valid and the open meetings law was not violated, the court noted. (Elmore v. Burke)