Council's cemetery vote date questioned

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Questions and requests after this month's regularly scheduled Lewisburg Council meeting prompted City Hall to take a baby step toward calling a special meeting on cemetery rules, but officials refrained from issuing a public notice.

The special called meeting sought by some councilmen to be held on April 26 will not be held, according to several city officials. While some specifics remained unclear Tuesday, a legal opinion on the state's open meetings law seems to be a significant reason why there's no meeting scheduled for next Tuesday night.

Councilmen Robin Minor, Odie Whitehead Jr., and Hershel Davis on April 12 indicated they felt that a meeting was needed to change grave decoration rules before Mother's Day, the traditional Decoration Day in Lewisburg. More than 80 people have been at council meetings in recent months when the subject was cemetery rules and how graves may be decorated.

On April 13, within a day of the request for a special meeting - a request first made in City Hall's lobby and then on its front porch on April 12 - City Recorder Brenda Brewer confirmed there were plans for a special meeting and that a legal notice would be published.

That same day, Wednesday last week, the Marshall County Tribune asked Mayor Barbara Woods if she thought there had been a violation of the state's law requiring public deliberation toward a decision on public business be conducted during public meetings.

The effort to schedule a special meeting was after the April meeting of the council had adjourned. Discussion during the meeting included Minor and Whitehead indicating they wanted a special meeting to change cemetery rules before Mother's Day.

Davis didn't express an opinion during the meeting, but agreed after the session was adjourned that it might be worth having a special meeting.

The mayor consulted the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service and on Thursday, MTAS legal consultant Josh Jones said, "Councilmen have no authority outside of a properly noticed open meeting" to call a special meting. "Any action taken outside of an open meeting is in violation of the open meetings law and thus void."

"We need a third meeting," Whitehead said Monday when asked about the planned session on the 26th so rules could be changed before Decoration Day.

As for the discussion in City Hall and on its porch Tuesday last week, Whitehead said, "it was just trying to come to an agreement as to whether there should be a meeting."

Davis is suffering a "summer cold," he said Tuesday morning, indicating there had been an effort by three councilmen to call the meeting.

"This thing has been blown all out of proportion," Davis said. "Feelings are hurt. I hate to see something like that in a small town."

Meanwhile, City Manager David Orr said City Attorney Steve Broadway had been consulted about the open meetings law and whether action on the 26th would be void. Broadway's office said he was in court when called Tuesday morning.