Reason for distrust.

By any definition, our City Council is a “public body”.  According to the law, as read into the record by John Hammer in this Troublemaker video, such a public body “may not” go into closed session to discuss ”a member of the public body”.

But, on the advice of the City Attorney, they did it anyway when they retired to chambers to discuss Dianne Bellamy-Small’s involvement in leaking the RMA report earlier this year.

You don’t have to look much further than that video to understand why a recent report on Greensboro’s “social capital” indicates a low, and declining, level of trust for local government.  That incident was handled badly and perhaps illegally.  Then it was just swept under the rug.

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17 Comments

  1. Sandy Carmany
    Posted March 21, 2007 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Hogg,

    Councilmembers did NOT “discuss Dianne Bellamy-Small’s involvement in leaking the RMA report earlier this year” during that closed session. Once we reviewed the investigative report, saw that the numerous city staff members’ copies of the reports were not the source of the leak, and learned that one councilmember’s (Dianne’s) copy was the apparent source document, the city attorney prohibited any further discussion during the closed session. The closed session was adjourned and councilmembers took bathroom breaks, etc. while the mayor and city attorney consulted with each other about how he would handle the ensuing open session. When the mayor read his statement in the open session, it was the first time the full city council had seen or heard his statement or had the ability to discuss the report’s findings.

    Bottom line — the city council did not discuss “one of our own” or what to do about the situation during the closed session.

  2. Mick
    Posted March 21, 2007 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    Try as you might,

    This doesnt change the “badly handled” part. It seems there have been numerous suspect closed sessions over the last few years. Trying to “get around” the open meetings laws or even the spirit of those laws IS the problem. Citizens will always distrust their Govt at some level. In my opinion, in small doses that is a healthy idea. You guys and others just keep giving reason after reason. You can sit there and blogg us all you want about how we just done understand but we see is what we see.

  3. wayne
    Posted March 21, 2007 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Sandy:

    Your attempt to explain only worsens the situation. Linda Miles gave very bad legal advice and anything you say will not change my mind. I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it again, this is the worst city council-ever. I have a friend , born and bred here in Greensboro and 75 years old and looking for property in Randolph County. He is ready to move and is totally fed up. I don’t think you understand how bad this is, and getting worse every day. I am fed up with this da– political correctness and you don’t seem to understand what this all means.

  4. Posted March 21, 2007 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Sandy, two points:

    1) Why did the city attorney cut the discussion short in closed session when she had just stated publicly that council members could be considered personnel for the purpose of conducting a closed meeting? That action is contradictory to what she had said moments earlier.

    2) The law says that a public body must cite a legally permissible reason for going into closed session. The reason offered was a “personnel” reason that, as noted by the city attorney was to include discussion of city council members.

    The mayor even got the ball rolling by asking that someone make a motion to go into closed session to “consider a personnel action.” Florence Gatten then made a motion to “go into executive session to consider a personnel matter.” When the mayor called for a vote, he stated again that the purpose of the closed session was to discuss a “personnel matter.” Tom Phillips asked if the matter qualified as “personnel matters when it may be related to city council” and the city attorney said, “yes” — that “city council can be considered personnel.” (The city attorney backed this up by claiming she had had a conversation she did not have.)

    To go into a closed session, sate law requires that a statutory permissible reason be cited in a public motion. The motion made was to discuss a personnel issue. Discussion of the performance of city council members in a closed session is expressly denied as a permissible reason in state law. You know I respect you, Sandy, but to tell us that there wasn’t any discussion of council members, only discussion of a report that reported on city council members is, frankly, insulting in its efforts to excuse a mistake.

  5. RS
    Posted March 21, 2007 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Sandy, I hope you’ll read this post…

    The problem as I see it, is that your attorney lied to you. She said that she consulted with David Lawrence at the Institute of Government, to get his opinion, and according to “published reports”*, she didn’t. That issue seems to be black or white. She either lied to you or she didn’t. If she did, it’s inexusable and it would lead me to question her advice and trustworthyness. If you don’t have total faith in the advice of your attorney…you’re (and the City) in trouble.

    Regarding the “published reports”. The source makes me a queasy, but I believe John Hammer is quoted as saying that he called David Lawrence and that Lawrence said that the conversation never took place. Who’s lying Linda or John? The Troublemaker shows her on video making the statment that she spoke to David Lawrence. John Hammer wrote in his paper that Lawrence denied it. If John is lying I’d think that she’d be all over him demanding a retraction. If she’s lying I’m sure she broke some ethical attorney-client rule.

    Why is Council ignoring this issue?

  6. Sandy Carmany
    Posted March 21, 2007 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    All — Gee, as someone (Yogi Berra?) once said, “This sounds like deja vu all over again!” I thought this issue had been thoroughly vetted back when it occurred.

    Mick — Could you give me some examples of those “numerous suspect closed sessions?” While I am certainly aware of the controversy surrounding this particular one, I’m not clear about the others to which you have referred to be able to respond accurately.

    Wayne — Please notice in my comment that I did not address or defend anything about Linda Mile’s legal advice about the reason for the closed session. I only commented about what happened inside the session once the city council entered into it.

    Roch — I will address what I know to be FACT first — and I will reiterate what I stated in my first comment — the city council did NOT discuss DBS or any other councilmember in that closed session. The investigation covered all the possible copies of RMA report that could have been the source document — there were numerous copies (20+???) in the hands of city staff members, thus city staff covered under the “personnel” reason for a closed session were potentially still in play at that point. The investigators reviewed the methodology they used and then presented their findings. Discussion was halted by the city attorney once council saw the evidence pointed to DBS’ copy as the source document. All I can suggest if you do not believe my statement to be accurate is to contact other council members you trust and ask them to verify or dispute it.

    The rest of my answer is OPINION and or GUESSING. I ASSUME that Linda realized her error in stating that council members qualify under the personnel exemption but cannot state that as fact. You would have to ask her about that. I am ASSUMING the mayor made his call for a motion for a closed session based on the legal advice he had received from Linda and Florence then repeated the mayor’s wording as we usually do in these cases. With the possibility of city staff/personnel being implicated in the investigation, I ASSUME that the “personnel” reason for going into closed session was valid, but the interpretation that councilmembers are covered under “personnel” was in error. Perhaps “consulation with our attorney on a legal matter” would have been the better reason to have cited for the closed session, but I do believe it was a valid closed session.

    Roch and RS — Linda Miles and Blair Carr both issued written explanations to the councilmembers and the press (cannot locate my copies now) explaining Linda’s statement to the city council about conferring/not conferring with David Lawrence. Linda apologized for the confusion, and I accepted that explanation and apology. You will have to ask other members of council about their reactions to this incident, but my ASSUMPTION would have to be that they also accepted the explanation/apologies.

  7. Mick
    Posted March 21, 2007 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Pick one. Any one. Or is your point that the incident in question here is the first and only time there have been issues with open meetings? My memory could be failing I guess. If so, my bad.

    I am glad you are satisfied with Miles and Carr written explanations. I do trust you with that. Though I would like to see the reasoning. She seems pretty definitive in the video. “Confusion” is word I am not sure I can live with in this instance. I’m no genius but the timing of Ms Carr’s departure seems odd and for a reportedly large pay cut. Personally, I think a few “other shoes” are about to fall. Could just be “blog fever” I suppose. We shall see.

  8. Posted March 21, 2007 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Sandy Carmany February 8th, 2007 11:47 am #20I just received a long verbal briefing from Mitchell Johnson about the whole Bryant issue, and as I suspected, only “cherry-picked� information that supports the “malfeasance� side of the issue has been posted publicly so far. As soon as city staff gets ALL the documents to me, I will quickly publicize “the rest of the story� that shows the city avoided potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional expenses when the city council approved this compromise settlement.

  9. Posted March 22, 2007 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Sandy, I wasn’t questioning your veracity, I was merely noting that your account makes the city attorney’s explainations even more puzzling.

  10. wayne
    Posted March 22, 2007 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Sandy:
    It may be O K for someone to outright lie to you, but I was raised to believe that was a measure of integrity. A mistake can be appologized, not a lie. Also, one MAJOR thing to me is “Who are you representing- Mitchell Johnson, Linda Miles or the people who voted for you? I hope I am wrong, but it sure seems that most of our Council and our Mayor have forgotten who elected them.

    Also, I watched Tuesday Night and I was amazed that Council agreed to spend Fifty-Million Dollars on the dam repairs without questioning or asking for other opinions. Do any of you realize how much Fifty-Millon Dollars really is?

  11. Sandy Carmany
    Posted March 22, 2007 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Mick — There are a number of reasons spelled out in the Open Meetings Law that allow for closed sessions — attorney/client privilege, acquisiton of property, personnel discussions, etc. While there are folks in the public and in the media who would prefer there be no closed meetings whatsoever, closed sessions are perfectly legal and necessary under certain circumstances. Without knowing which specific sessions with which you have an issue, there’s no way I can offer additional explanation. Sorry!

    Ben — After the bloggers’ meeting with Mitch was held several weeks ago, I was under the impression that most attendees had accepted Mitch’s and Butch’s explanations of the issues of the Bryant and Willow Oaks contracts and were satified with those explanations. At that point, I decided it would be redundant for me to duplicate their work and try render my own interpretation of those documents since you had already gotten those explanations straight from the persons who were directly involved with the situation. I would have had nothing new to add to the conversation and therefore moved on to other more pressing things. Besides, there are more current topics that are 1,000 times more interesting — such as this week’s revelation by Bledsoe of your undercover work with the police department. That sounds like a great topic to explore! [smile]

    Roch — Sorry if I misunderstood the intent of your comment, but that’s the way it came across to me.

    Wayne — I fully understand how costly that $50 million dam replacement is and I certainly wish there was a safe and dependable longterm alternative. However, if you listened carefully to Allan Williams presentation, all other less expensive options were extensively explored and there were significant drawbacks and insufficiencies with all those alternatives. Whether or not I like the price tag (and I certainly do not), I like even less the prospect of that dam failing because this council decided to play cheap and gamble with the city’s water supply.

  12. Mick
    Posted March 23, 2007 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Sandy Carmany,

    Just for the sake of discussion and general curiosity…. Can you remember no other instances or are there too many to choose from? Just as you, I havent the time or inclination to research. Maybe just a foggy memory of Hammer being Hammer. Again, my memory may be slipping and/or I may be mixing some details here and there. In general, my point was that possible violations of the open meetings law seems to be an ongoing issue with the council “and some members of the media”. I understand there are numerous legal causes for closed sessions.

  13. Sandy Carmany
    Posted March 23, 2007 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Mick,
    Besides Hammer recently complaining about not being able to enter the Executive Offices while a closed session is being conducted, I honestly do not remember other specific examples of where the city council has been challenged about our closed sessions. My assessment is your point of “Hammer being Hammer.”

  14. Posted March 25, 2007 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Sandy,

    Bryant electric was not even touched on at the blogger meet up. As far as Willow Oaks goes…Mitch got his ass handed to him…you sandy…nned to step down…you are a joke a best…

  15. RS
    Posted March 25, 2007 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    Sandy, I admire the fact that you are trying to engage in conversation and transparency. I think you’ve always been respectful, even when people are taking pot-shots at you. I hate when posts become personal. Keep your head up.

  16. Posted March 27, 2007 at 7:19 am | Permalink

    “Bryant electric was not even touched on at the blogger meet up.” — Ben Holder

    Yes, it was. I brought it up. The focus of my questions were on the remedies available to the city if a contractor is found to be submitting bogus bills as it appeared Bryant did. So, yes, it was “touched on” for several minutes.

  17. Posted March 28, 2007 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    It wasnt touched on becuase I didnt touch it Roch. get real.