- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) - A state Ethics Commission report finds that the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors violated Mississippi’s open meetings law during discussions of a bond issue in 2013.

The Meridian Star (http://bit.ly/1ou9GBe) reports that the county plans to object to the recommendation made Monday to Ethics Commission by its executive director, Tom Hood. The recommendation doesn’t invalidate the $14 million bond issue and there are no fines suggested by the hearing officer, but it does tell supervisors not to do it again.

The ethics complaint was filed by Marion resident Tommy Williams, who opposed the bond issue.

“In my mind - clearly violated it,” Williams said.

Lauderdale County attorney Lee Thaggard said the report is inaccurate, although he couldn’t immediately cite the problems. He also says the report’s interpretation of the law is too broad.

“There will be cities, counties, public bodies across the state that will shake their heads at that decision,” said Thaggard, who said supervisors plan to contest the report before the full commission.

The report found two meetings held before supervisors approved the $14 million in borrowing violated open meetings law by creating a “piecemeal quorum” across more than one meeting. The report also cites as a violation telephone contacts meant to gauge supervisors’ support.

The Ethics Commission report said that the board had considered passing bonds for some time, and on March 26, District 1 Supervisor Hank Florey, who was board president at the time, and District 2 Supervisor Wayman Newell met with then county administrator Joe McCraney, bond consultant Demery Grubbs, and one of the board attorneys. Later that same day, another meeting was held with two other supervisors, District 3 Supervisor Josh Todd and District 5 Supervisor Kyle Rutledge.

The ethics report said that the matter involved pre-arranged meetings between a consultant and members of the board of supervisors where a quorum of the board existed, even though it was in separate meetings.

Following a March 28 work session, Florey and McCraney met to finalize the agenda for the April 1 meeting and Florey asked McCraney to contact Todd, as well as District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood and ask whether they would support a letter of intent to issue bonds, according to the report.

“Both members confirmed their support,” the report said.

The report said McCraney sent Rutledge and Newell text messages that the bond issue will be on the agenda for their April 1 meeting. In subsequent phone calls, they were both told that the bond issue would be for $14 million.

“This is the very sort of injustice which the Open Meetings Act is intended to prevent,” the report said.

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Information from: The Meridian Star, http://www.meridianstar.com