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Publisher arrested for refusing to leave closed meeting

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   NORTH CAROLINA   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   June 4, 2007…

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   NORTH CAROLINA   ·   Freedom of Information   ·   June 4, 2007

Publisher arrested for refusing to leave closed meeting

  • A journalist’s objection to a closed meeting led to a misdemeanor trespassing charge.

June 4, 2007  ·   A North Carolina newspaper publisher disagreed so strongly with the local airport authority’s reason to meet behind closed doors that he refused to leave and was subsequently arrested and charged with trespassing.

Tom Boney, publisher of The Alamance News, a weekly newspaper in Graham, N.C., had found out earlier that the Burlington-Alamance Airport Authority planned to meet behind closed doors. He planned to object to the closure and even talked to officials in the state attorney general’s office who assured him he had a valid case for arguing the meeting should be open, he said.

The board began the Tuesday meeting in the open, but then airport officials said they would close the meeting. The board cited an exception in the state’s Open Meetings Law that allows legislative bodies to close meetings to discuss economic development.

Boney said he objected to leaving on his own because the board members refused to promise him that they would not talk about or vote on approving an $11 million loan for a land purchase or a corresponding budget increase.

“And their response was, ‘We’re not going to answer any questions about that,'” Boney said from his newspaper office Thursday. “I wanted assurances that they were not going to deal with two issues when they closed the meeting and they said they weren’t going to tell me. They didn’t want to set the precedent of having to tell people what they would discuss after closing a meeting.”

As Boney, 52, continued to ask questions, the board voted to close the meeting and asked Boney to leave. He refused to leave on his own, so the board called the Alamance County Sherriff’s Office.

Sherriff Terry Johnson arrived and arrested Boney on a misdemeanor count of trespassing because Boney remained on the premises after being told to leave by the people in charge of it at the time, sheriff’s spokesman Randy Jones said.

“He explained his position and the board’s attorney explained their position,” Jones said. “He basically said, ‘I’m going to do what I believe in and you do what you need to do.’ The sheriff said it and I agree with him, Mr. Boney has a good point about having access to public meetings.”

Jones said Boney was not handcuffed and was escorted in the front seat of the patrol car.

Telephone messages left Thursday for airport authority Chairman Dan Danieley were not returned.

“This is an issue that should be conducted in the open,” Boney said. “I told them it was an improperly closed meeting and that I was not entitled to leave. If they were going to discuss anything on finances or for considering increase an appropriation request, there is no exception closing the meeting in that case.”

Boney has been a longtime advocate for open meetings in the area. He sued the Burlington City Council in 2000 on a similar closed meeting issue and was also sued by the City Council in 2002. In the second case, the council sued Boney before a meeting even took place, knowing that he planned to challenge the meeting being closed. A state appeals court held in 2004 that the city had no legal standing to file suit.

Boney is scheduled to appear in court on June 25 on the trespassing charge.

“I thought I could force the issue faster by letting them arrest me,” Boney said. “I thought it would bring the issue to a head a lot sooner.”


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