published Friday, December 9th, 2011

Chattanooga’s public library board sidesteps state ‘Sunshine Law’

by Cliff Hightower

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“Notice of special meetings: Any such governmental body which holds a meeting not previously scheduled by statute, ordinance, or resolution shall give adequate public notice of such meeting.” — Tennessee Code Annotated 8-44-103

Chattanooga officials admit that the board of the Chattanooga’s public library violated the state’s “Sunshine Law” by holding at least one meeting this week without public notice.

Richard Beeland, spokesman for Mayor Ron Littlefield, acknowledged the library board held a meeting Thursday afternoon without properly notifying the public.

“They failed to advertise it, and they should have,” he said. “It was an oversight.”

Jim Kennedy III, chairman of the board, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.

The board met Wednesday afternoon after interviewing a candidate for the position of library director. Board members are looking to replace David Clapp, who retired in December 2010.

Beeland said meetings planned for next week to discuss other director candidates will be advertised.

City Attorney Mike McMahan said the board, which was appointed by Mayor Ron Littlefield, must provide public notice for all meetings. The city generally tries to publish notices in the newspaper seven days ahead of the meeting.

The most recent public notice, on Sept. 23, stated that regular library board meetings would be held on Nov. 15 and Dec. 20.

The board interviewed two candidates this week. It also has held conference calls with candidates over the past month.

State law says any “governing body” that has the authority to make decisions must give advance public notice and have open meetings. Any meeting between two or more members of a governing body is considered an open meeting.

There are some exceptions, such as meetings with attorneys to discuss litigation involving the board.

Personnel matters, however, are not excluded from open meetings laws.

The public library receives almost 100 percent of its funding from Chattanooga.

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