The Washington County Commission canceled its entire meeting Monday when overcrowding for a scheduled vote on a resolution supporting one-man one-woman marriage created concerns the county could be violating Tennessee Open Meetings Act, reports the Johnson City Press.
Following orders from a barking sheriff’s deputy for those still trying to find a seat inside the packed 200-seat George Jaynes Justice Center courtroom to clear the aisle and move outside, Senior Attorney Tom Seeley advised commissioners they should heed the wants of the estimated 150 to 200 left in the foyer.
“This is a public meeting, and anyone wishing to attend should at least be able to listen to the proceedings,” Seeley said. “Otherwise, we may be violating the state’s public records law. If people are physically left out of a meeting, the county must supply the means with which they can hear.”
Commissioner David Tomita, also a Johnson City commissioner, said he had spoken with his city colleagues who agreed to try to find an opening at the Millennium Centre. That suggestion carried in a 13-10 vote.
Public notice must be given for that special called meeting, regardless of location.
Commissioner Todd Hensley expressed doubts about the deferral prior to the vote asking, “How can we derail all our business for one issue?”
Frank Gibson, Tennessee Press Association public policy director, said Seeley made the right move. He also said a judge recently ruled in the Greeneville and Greene County, US Nitrogen case that deliberations at public meetings covered by the Open Meetings Act must be audible in order to comply with the law.
“I applaud the county attorney’s advice about canceling the meeting,” Gibson said.