County Closed Session Minutes on Land Sale Requested
The Moore County Board of Commissioners is expected to consider a request from The Pilot next week to release minutes from recent closed meetings in which it might have discussed selling county land in Carthage.
County Commissioner Tim Lea accused fellow board members last month of violating the state’s public meetings law by going behind closed doors to discuss the sale of a 1.3-acre parcel to the Bojangles’ corporation.
The sale, according to Lea, would be contingent on a study under way that would determine if the county could spare the land.
State law allows elected officials to go into a closed meeting for select reasons, including the purchase of land. The law does not provide for a private meeting to discuss the sale of government-owned land.
North Carolina Press Association attorney Mike Tadych said the county board “is at peril” if illegal action was taken in closed session.
“The Open Meetings Law permits closed sessions regarding the acquisition of property (but) not divestiture,” he said. “If (the sale of county land) is what they discussed, the commission is at peril for having conducted an illegal closed session.
“The public policy behind openness for the sale of public property is pretty obvious in that if the public body is interested in selling, more bidders will likely raise the price versus one bidder in secret.”
The land in question is located near the Moore County Veterans’ Memorial on U.S. 15-501. Lea also took issue with what he called the “desecration” of the area should a fast food restaurant be placed nearby.
“This is not about Bojangles’, this is about respect for the veterans whose names are on the monument and who died in the service of their country,” Lea said. “I want the veterans of this county to know that there could potentially be trash from a fast food restaurant left around the area of the monument if this goes through. Is this the kind of image we want displayed?”
After Lea raised the matter at the board’s May 15 meeting, The Pilot submitted a public records request for minutes from the board’s prior closed sessions. Lea said the board discussed the land sale on three separate occasions.
“According to the law, this type of procedure has to be done in open session ... so that we have an opportunity to maximize the return on your assets and then put those monies in the general fund for future needs of the county, therefore hopefully keeping your tax rate low,” he said.
The Pilot made a formal request to County Clerk Laura Williams, who responded with the information that the issue would be addressed at the next regularly scheduled board meeting in June.
“The minutes and recordings can only be released by a vote of the board and as you know, they will meet again on June 5,” Williams said. “They are aware of your request.”
In a previous interview Commissioners’ Chairman Larry Caddell said the issue was discussed in advance with County Attorney Misty Leland.
“We went in and talked to Misty about what we could and couldn’t say in closed session, and that’s what we did,” he said. “Commissioner Lea is leaving the board later this year, and will do anything he can to make us look bad. We’re not doing anything under the table.”
Leland has said she could not comment on whether or not the issue was discussed in closed session.
The next regular meeting of the county board will be Tuesday at 6 p.m.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 692-2479 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story
- Commissioners' Minutes Reflect 3 Private Talks About Selling County Land for a Bojangles'
- Board Discussed Land Sale to Bojangles Against Attorney's Advice
- Veterans Group to Continue Protest with Commissioners
- Compromise Reached in Veterans' Memorial Issue
- Veterans Protest Possible Bojangles' Near Memorial