Closing the door on those questions

Friday, October 14, 2011

The dean of municipal law in Tennessee represents a town that's now probably eight times the size of Lewisburg, but there weren't 50,000 people there during the 1990s.

Anyway, councilmen would ask her if it was OK to do something and she avoided saying yes or no by explaining how she could defend them in court if they decided one way or another. During that half hour discussion, most of the councilmen wanted to forget about it and do something else.

Here and now, there's been an allegation that some county commissioners went to a golf course clubhouse after their Sept. 26 meeting when they realized Steve Bowden was resigning and they'd be electing a successor.

Two responsible and usually reliable men have said Judge Lee Bowles was there that night 10 days before they reassembled in public session. The two men spoke on a condition of anonymity, predicting that Bowles would be appointed by the commission.

Their point was that if commissioners at the clubhouse deliberated toward a decision, then there's a violation of the open meetings law, thereby calling into question the judge's authority.

Provable violations of the open meetings act nullify the decisions made out of the public view.

Calls have been made to Bowles. She is, no doubt, busy with her transition from private practice to working full-time as a judge.

We wish her well and see her as a well-qualified individual for a seat on the bench.

As a child, I listened to my father talk about what it was like being an auditor on Wall Street during the Great Depression. Loosely put, he told company presidents when it was time to jump off the roof. Dad insisted on payment up front. He also spoke of government controls that, for example, prevented banks from selling insurance, stocks, bonds, or other investments, including real estate. I believe I have a better view of the Great Recession through my father's long-gone eyes.

Judge Bowles, no doubt, listened to her father talk about court cases when he was a judge in sessions, juvenile, circuit and appeals court. He's also represented Marshall County in the state house of Representatives where they make laws. I believe she has a better view of the court system than the average lawyer her age.

As for the commissioners' powwows at Lefty's, Mopey's and the Mexican restaurant on the hill, there's been a flaunting of the spirit of the law and a "Catch Me If You Can" attitude. Ironically, I think it's good for them to be friends, but there's too much suspicion about government to let appearances mislead the public.

Let's say, theoretically, Bowles was there and spoke individually to commissioners. She may even have asked them to avoid discussing her candidacy for judge among themselves.

If such communication at a place where several commissioners gathered for a birthday party or baby shower or whatever, could be deemed communication and therefore deliberation, then there's a problem if someone wants to file a complaint. If they do, it can be cured be voting again to verify Bowles authority.

Then, was there a time when Bowles had no authority? The legal argument could be that if everybody saw her as judge and she acted as such without conceding anything, then her decisions would stand.

Such interpretations were heard during a half-hour phone call with someone with more experience with the law than I.

Next week: More on the dismal science of economics and scams.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.