- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

MERIDIAN, Miss. (AP) - The Mississippi Ethics Commission has found the Lauderdale County Board of Supervisors violated the state’s open meetings law in 2013 by holding individual meetings to discuss a bond issue.

However, the commission issued no fine. The citation does not invalidate the bond issue.

The bond issue is on hold pending the outcome of a lawsuit before the Mississippi Supreme Court. The lawsuit challenges the validation process for the bond issue

The Meridian Star reports (http://bit.ly/1waWNdJ ) the commission’s decision comes about a year after a local resident filed a complaint. The complaint argued board members met separately to avoid having a quorum, which would have meant that they would have to keep minutes of the meeting and provide public notice.

Supervisors met with attorneys and a bond consultant in groups of two just days before approving in a 3-2 vote for a $14 million bond issue for recreation projects and improvements to the local courthouse.

The newspaper reports the bond issue was not discussed in a work session held before the April 1, 2013, board meeting, but it was on the agenda on that day.

Ethics Commission director Tom Hood said the commission “has taken the position that you can’t just break up into small groups and circumvent the open meetings law.”

Hood said the commission issued a ruling against the Columbus Board of Alderman in a similar situation.

“That’s been a very common practice with lots of boards all over the state. So having one decision about a municipal board, followed by a decision involving a county board makes it very clear to everybody in the state that they need to change some of their practices,” Hood said.

Board of Supervisors’ attorney Lee Thaggard said he will recommend the county appeal the ruling to chancery court.

“They are expanding the meaning of what constitutes a meeting and that is beyond their authority,” Thaggard said. “They are interpreting the definition of a meeting more broadly than the definition is.”

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

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