The Advocate-Messenger is sticking by an attorney general’s ruling that Danville City Commission violated the state’s Open Meetings Act in its response to the city’s lawsuit asking that the ruling be overturned.
In a response filed last week in Boyle Circuit Court, the newspaper’s attorneys maintain that commissioners acted illegally by deciding to purchase the BISCO property during an executive session instead of voting to buy the building in open session during its July 23 meeting.
While admitting it doesn’t have enough knowledge to say for sure what transpired behind closed doors that night, the Advocate contends that — based on the commission’s “actions, written assertions, public statements and admissions” — the commission took “final action” to buy the property through a collective decision, a commitment or a promise to make a positive or negative decision, or an actual vote by a majority of the members of the governmental body.”
Following a request from the newspaper, the AG’s office issued a ruling in September stating that the actions taken by the commission in executive session toward purchasing the property violated state law regarding open meetings.
In its lawsuit filed last month, the commission argues it followed the law because the purpose of the executive session was the discussion of the possible purchase of property, which is permitted if publicity about a possible purchase might affect the price of property. The city announced its intentions to discuss property acquisition before it went into executive session, as the law requires, and did not take final action to purchase the property at that time, the complaint maintains.
Even though during the executive session all five commissioners indicated to City Manager Ron Scott they supported the purchase of the building, no official vote to purchase the BISCO property occurred behind closed doors, the lawsuit states.
The final action to buy the property took place in open session on Aug. 13, three days after the city had submitted the winning bid of $1,237,500 to buy the building at auction, according to the commission’s lawsuit.
The lawsuit contends the AG’s office misinterpreted related case law and its conclusion in support of the newspaper was a legal error. It asks Judge Darren Peckler to reverse the AG’s ruling and declare it null and void.
If the court affirms the AG’s ruling, The Advocate requests that the action taken during the executive session, “including the sale of the BISCO building, should be declared null and void,” and that the commission discuss during open session of a future meeting “those matters that were improperly discussed at the July 23 closed session.”
The paper also asks for an award of $100 per day for each violation of the open meetings law.
A hearing on the case has not yet been scheduled.