Judge sets court date in open meeting case

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 22, 2000

Staff Report

Oct. 21, 2000 10 PM

A Pike County Circuit Judge denied the Pike County Commission’s motion to dismiss a case regarding alleged violations of open meetings laws and set Friday, Oct. 27 as the court date.

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Judge Gary McAliley ruled on the motion on Oct. 2, declaring that he would hear the case brought against the Pike County Commission by the Alabama Press Association, Troy Publications, Inc., the company that publishes The Messenger, and Rick Reynolds, TPI president and publisher of The Messenger.

McAliley wrote in his ruling denying the motion to dismiss, which was filed by commission attorney Allen Jones on Sept. 13, "This remains a government of the people, by the people and for the people. The people have the right to know how their elected (city, county, state and national) representatives vote and conduct the business of the people."

McAliley also wrote, "Our government is better served when its people are allowed to view their governments’ operations from the sunshine of democracy instead of speculating as to what their government did due to the darkness of secrecy."

The case was filed on August 9 following a February 28 incident in which members of the Pike County Commission conducted a silent vote by paper ballot for the position of emergency management director for Pike County. The vote was split 2-2-2 for three candidates.

Members of the commission did not disclose their votes in the matter. They maintain there actions were legal, and an Alabama Attorney General’s opinion issued after the vote agreed secret votes are, at times, legal.

According to McAliley, "There are certain very limited circumstances where voting by secret ballot is excepted from the general requirement."

The Messenger challenged the commission’s position through editorials and through requests that members reveal the results of their vote.

Members have still not publicly disclosed their votes in the matter.

The Messenger and the Alabama Press Association contend that a failure on the part of elected officials to make the deliberative process open to the public at all stages undermines the Alabama Sunshine Law.

McAliley wrote in his opinion, "The law and precedent of this state are clear in that the ‘…entire…process MUST be open to public scrutiny…’"

The trial is expected to begin in the Pike County Courthouse at 9:30 a.m. Friday.