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Lawrence waiting for Sunshine Law ruling

By Kristen Bishop
kbishop@decaturdaily.com · 340-2443

MOULTON — Lawrence County commissioners were waiting for a response from their attorneys Friday before deciding whether to release information discussed during a questionable executive session involving County Administrator Linda Harville on Monday.

The 11/2-hour executive session may have been held in violation of state Sunshine Laws that spell out when officials can meet in private.

Chairman Mose Jones on Monday said the closed meeting was to protect “the good name and character” of an employee. He later said the commission also discussed an inmate’s lawsuit against the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Department.

Executive session

According to state Sunshine Laws, both reasons justify an executive session; however, Sheriff Gene Mitchell and Commissioner John Terry both denied that pending litigation was the reason for the meeting, and the “good name and character” exception doesn’t apply when discussing the job performance of a managerial-level employee or public official.

To fall under the job performance clause of the Sunshine Law, an employee must make at least $50,000. Harville said she makes “roughly $24 an hour,” amounting to about $52,900 each year.

Jones, who has had more than 20 years on the commission to familiarize himself with state laws, stood by
the commission’s decision to go into executive session Friday.

“(Harville’s) job performance didn’t have anything to do with it,” he said.

“It was about a dispute between her and the sheriff. That’s where good name and character comes in.”

Disagreement

But Terry disagreed. He said the discussion did involve her job performance and contacted the Association of County Commissions of Alabama’s attorney Thursday.

An official with the attorney’s office said it sounded like the commission had acted illegally, agreed to look into it further and advised Terry to have the commission meet as a body to disclose the information, said Terry.

“I would be glad to share that information with you if the attorney says we’ve done something wrong,” he said.

Terry said he’d also speak
to County Attorney Cecil Caine before making his decision.

Alabama Sunshine Laws require a “designated person” certify that a closed meeting is warranted.

In the past, the county attorney has been the one to do this, but Caine said Tuesday the executive session “caught (him) by surprise.”

Caine was unavailable for comment Friday.

Calls to the Association of County Commissions of Alabama’s attorney’s office were also not returned.

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