Listen to David

Published 8:39 am Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To the Editor:

David Lawrence, lawyer and UNC professor, is the recognized legal authority on open meetings law in NC.  Bertie citizens should consider his writings when judging our commissioners actions on Zee Lamb’s raise.

When Lawrence was asked if setting a person’s salary could occur in closed session, his answer was the person’s performance could be discussed, which could be the basis of the salary change, but that the actual setting of the salary should come in open session.

We all now know Lamb’s salary amount was discussed in closed session and in the open session minutes afterward there is no record of his salary being set. The 8/17/2009 open minutes only state, Commissioner Harrell introduced a motion to instruct the county attorney to draw up a final contract for the county manager for the chairman to sign. Commissioner Perry seconded the motion. The motion passed unanimously.

The county attorney has said this was adequate notification and that anyone could have asked for the contract and seen the salary. We beg to differ.

The minutes only state an intention to draw up a contract and have it ready for review and possible execution. The minutes do not say there is a new employment contract. If so that would have led one of our local papers to ask for a copy and cover the story. The increase was unknown until 17 months later with the online release in 2/2011 of the UNC School of Government’s County Managers Salary Report.

In addition to publishing the above, what we now know to be unclear, open minutes; the commissioners saved the 8/17/2009 closed meeting tape in case there was litigation. Why would someone who had been open and transparent expect litigation?

Mr. Rick Harrell’s affidavit states in #10. The tapes of open and closed sessions are destroyed after the minutes of each meeting are approved except in this instance as the Bertie County Commissioners, upon the advice of their attorney Lloyd C. Smith Jr., maintained the tape of the August 17, 2009 meeting of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners, even after approving the minutes of the same upon advice of their attorney in case there was litigation.

So they have been taping commissioner meetings since 1993, where obviously other employment contracts had been discussed, but for some reason for the first time ever they decide to save the tape from the 8/17/2009 meeting.  Is anyone out there in Bertie getting the same sinking feeling in your stomach that I am?

David Lawrence has said in Article 8 on Open Meetings and Public Records that GS132-1 establishes a very broad definition of public record, generally unlimited by the form of the material in question or by the circumstances under which it was created. He then goes on the specifically note sound recordings and magnetic or other tapes as public records.

If they have nothing to hide, Mr. Lamb can sign a release and give Friends of Bertie the audio tape.

John H. Davis

Merry Hill