Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Roch on Carruthers, Outling and Barber

"...Mere moments after these votes, Carruthers answered the direct question of whether or not the results of the votes were public with “We don’t take votes in closed session.”

Even though Carruthers’ public dissembling is quite serious, more troubling still is the complicity of the Greensboro City Council. Whatever confused notion Carruthers may have about his responsibilities and loyalties, it is city council that is supposed to be looking out for the interests of we, the people. Insulating their deliberations from public scrutiny, voting in secret and then sitting quietly while they watched the city attorney lie for them is not in the service of the public interest.

...Vaughan, like all of her experienced colleagues should have known better than to even have had the discussion in closed session or to take secret votes. The topic of the secret votes was whether or not to allow council members to look at the details of an internal police investigation. That was not a proper subject for a closed meeting to begin with.

As Susan Ladd of the News & Record observed, “That meeting does not in any way conform to the criteria for a closed session.” Ladd also wondered, “What else have they improperly discussed that should have been aired before the public they serve?” That’s a good question. I’ve made an information request for records of all votes council has taken in closed sessions this year. I’ll keep you posted.

...there were two other attorneys in the closed session, District 3 representative Justin Outling and at-large member Mike Barber. Barber was even responsible for making one of the motions council voted on in secret. What was he thinking? His motion got a second from Marikay Abuzuaiter who, after multiple terms on council should know better. They all should have known better.

Under North Carolina open meetings law, there are very strict and limited reasons why a public body can meet in private. Avoiding the public discomfort of discussing prickly subjects is not one of them and watching council repeatedly acquiesce to Barber’s motions for five-minute recesses when public deliberations get heated casts doubt on the extent to which this council understands the meanings of transparency and accountability. Hiding contentious disagreement may serve to protect the image of council, but it does not serve the public interest in knowing how our representatives are representing us.

It was especially disheartening to hear Outling defend the secrecy of the closed meeting as necessary to protect “attorney-client” privilege. As North Carolina local government law expert David M. Lawrence has written, when it comes to public bodies meeting in private, the attorney-client protection extends to “legal advice only.” It does not, Lawrence explains, “extend to all conversations the client might wish remain confidential.”

Outling knows that the deliberations and subsequent votes made by council were not about legal advice. He should have been advocating for the closed session to end while it was underway instead of trying to keep its details secret after the fact. Meeting behind closed doors to, among other things, get the advice of an attorney does not provide blanket secrecy to all discussions that occur there. As the legal professionals on council, it would be nice to see Barber and Outling using their professional knowledge to argue and push for greater transparency instead of working, as they do, for greater obfuscation..."