Atlanta Council Admits Open Meetings Error, APN Seeks Vote Tally
By Matthew Cardinale, News Editor, The Atlanta Progressive News (April 23, 2010)
(APN) ATLANTA -- On Monday, April 19, 2010, City Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9) acknowledged that the Council made a mistake by not including vote details in the Minutes of the Retreat of the City Council which took place at the Georgia Aquarium in February 2010.
Atlanta Progressive News has brought an open meetings inquiry before the Council and, on Tuesday, April 20, requested that Council President Ceasar Mitchell revise the minutes to include the omitted vote information. To date, Mitchell's office has not responded.
As previously reported by APN, the Council narrowly defeated a proposal to establish limiting public input at all Council Committees as a priority of the Committee on Council, in an 8-7 vote. Eight members voted to keep the current rules, which allow each Committee to set its own public comment rules; currently, only one Committee, the Community Development and Human Resources Committee (CD/HR), has any limit, which is a new five minute limitation.
The minutes of the retreat did include a reference to the discussion and said Moore took a poll of the members, where the Council decided to keep the current rules. However, the minutes did not include the vote breakdown or state how individual members voted.
"My readers of Atlanta Progressive News want to know how people voted," the present writer told Council Members during Full Council public comment on Monday. "And I am also concerned that allowing this sets a dangerous precedent for the Council to make controversial decisions by taking secret votes."
"The minutes of a meeting of any agency shall... as a minimum, include the names of the members present at the meeting, a description of each motion or other proposal made, and a record of all votes," the Open Meetings Act states.
"In the case of a roll-call vote the name of each person voting for or against a proposal shall be recorded and in all other cases it shall be presumed that the action taken was approved by each person in attendance unless the minutes reflect the name of the persons voting against the proposal or abstaining," the Act states.
Council Clerk Rhonda Dauphin Johnson as well as Councilwoman Moore initially argued that they did not believe it was necessary to include the vote details because they were not voting on legislation but on a proposal of whether to establish the drafting of such legislation as a priority for the Committee on Council.
However, Gerry Weber, a private constitutional law attorney and former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said he does not believe there is any distinction between the two, in terms of the law's requirements.
"The issue Mr. Cardinale has raised has been submitted to ask the person who is our expert in open meetings, open law. I do concede and did at the Committee [on Council] meeting with Mr. Cardinale that perhaps we should have written the names of the seven Council Members who said go one way and the eight others that said the other, but we did not do that. So it's not part of the record, it was an oversight, and that's something we will certainly correct in the future," Councilwoman Moore said Monday in response.
"We did not do what we should have done and that is put each person's name but that is an oversight that will no longer take place," Moore said.
Moore added, however, that the meeting was properly advertised and that the public could have attended the meeting, so it was not altogether a closed meeting. She took exception to the description of the vote as a secret vote. "There were no secret votes," Moore said.
APN has provided two weeks for Council President Mitchell to amend the minutes, before the news agency takes any further actions to ensure a transparent public policy process for the citizens of Atlanta.
A video of the exchange is available on Youtube:
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.