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Sunshine Law broken?

News Staff Writer

Atmore’s mayor and city council dealt with a heavier than usual agenda during their Monday, September 10, meeting, but it was an item that was not on the agenda that resulted in an apparent violation of the Alabama Open Meetings Act.
Among other business, council members officially set the annual trick-or-treat period, gave the green light to the purchase of five new police cars and awarded a bid for refurbishing the pool at a city park.
They reappointed a member to a local board; they heard from a Birmingham pastor who heads up a group dedicated to stemming the use of illicit drugs and weapons by young people; and they listened to the mayor read a proclamation.
All of those items were taken care of in short order, but a request made near the end of the meeting by a local lawyer who was recently elected to the Escambia County Commission led to the apparent breech of the state’s Sunshine Law, a series of statutes governing governmental meetings.
Karean Reynolds, who directs the Escambia County Children’s Policy Council, asked just as the meeting was ending if he could address the council, and Mayor Jim Staff quickly polled the council members, each of whom was in agreement.
When Reynolds was asked to speak, however, he stated that he “wanted to talk in private, not with everybody else here.” After a moment’s hesitation, Staff told the attorney that the council would grant the request and asked the media, City Clerk Becca Smith and all others who were not on the council to leave.
The city clerk pointed out to the mayor that proper procedure under the state’s open meetings statutes was to vote to go into executive session.
When a reporter and the city clerk left momentarily, then re-entered the council chambers, Staff said, “We’re in executive session. Webb [Nall] made the motion, Susan [Smith] seconded it, and everybody was for it.”
When asked to provide legal justification for the closed-doors session, the mayor hesitated a moment before stating that it was to discuss “the good name of somebody.”
According to Alabama law, discussion of an individual’s “good name and character” is one of the circumstances under which a governmental body may close its doors to the public.
But conversations outside Monday’s meeting indicated that Reynolds was there to express his concern over an issue — related to political signage — that cropped up earlier this year during his commission campaign.
None of the council members replied to separate emails sent Monday evening by Atmore News, asking whether anyone’s good name and character was actually discussed during the executive session.
In other business Monday, council members:
* Approved the lease-purchase of five 2018 Ford Interceptor vehicles for the city police department. The new cruisers were obtained through the state bid program at a cost of $25,148 each, from Stivers Ford in Montgomery. City Clerk Smith said the cost does not include light packages for the vehicles because “it is less expensive to have that done here in town.”
* Awarded a bid to Cox Pools of Pensacola for rehabilitation of the swimming pool at Houston Avery Park. The $85,875 bid was the only one received for the project.
* Officially set the period for Halloween trick-or-treating as 5-8 p.m. on Tuesday, October 30, since October 31 is a Wednesday and most local churches hold services that night.
* Re-appointed Rob Faircloth to the Atmore Utilities Board.
* Pledged support for the Rev. Jamal Finkley’s Youth Explosion program, which has a South Alabama chapter that includes Atmore and is aimed at teaching kids the dangers of guns and drugs. Finkley told the mayor and council that he “would not stop until we clean up some of our communities.”
* Heard the mayor read a proclamation designating September 21 as Fall Prevention Awareness Day in the city.
After the executive session ended, the meeting was formally adjourned.