Regular readers might recall that Dr. Tower walked out of the May MAS advisory board meeting after 90 seconds. After that, he was appointed chairman of the board and June’s public meeting was cancelled. When Memphis taxpayers inquired to Dr. Tower about this month’s meeting, scheduled for tonight, they were advised you had to know the secret password. Here is an e-mail one reader received:
The next public meeting for MAS advisory board will be in September. The board is updating our website to reflect the schedule change.
The board is meeting on a monthly basis, and those meetings are not open to the public. The minutes from those meetings, after approved by the board, will posted on the MAS website.
Thank you for your interest,
So June’s meeting wasn’t actually cancelled, as stated on the city’s website? It was held in secret? Same for this month and next month’s meetings? Oh gee, that sounds all illegal-like.
According to the TN Sunshine Law, the mayor-appointed advisory board can not meet privately – the public must be allowed to attend any and all meetings. Since the secret meetings of the current advisory board appear to violate that law, I sent an e-mail to Dr. Tower yesterday to inquire. He has not responded as of this posting.
I would think Mayor Wharton would want to appoint a new advisory board immediately in order to show that secret meetings in violation of the law are not tolerated under his administration. Maybe we should ask him.
If you are in Memphis, I encourage you to attend the MAS advisory board meeting posted on the city’s website that is scheduled for tonight. It’s at the Benjamin Hooks Library (3030 Poplar) at 6pm. If the advisory board fails to show for its own meeting, protest and contact the media. If anyone attempts to deny you access, protest and contact the media. Bring a sign in case you are forced to picket.
Keep all your actions peaceful and civil.
Exercise your right to access the meeting and if you are prevented from doing so, exercise your freedom to assemble and freedom of speech. The pets at MAS have no voice but under the law, you do. Please use it to speak for them tonight.
Update: A letter from Polly Sack, an attorney and concerned citizen, to our friend Herman Morris, regarding tonight’s meeting:
Sent: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 2:35 PM
To: ‘cityattorney@Memphistn.gov’; ‘Herman.Morris@memphistn.gov‘
Subject: Memphis Animal Shelter Advisory Board (the MAS Board)
Dear Mr. Morris:
It has come to my attention that Dr. Tower of the MAS Board is closing meetings of the MAS Board to the public. And I have also heard the “rumor” that the meeting scheduled for tonight, as posted on the city website, is being moved to an undisclosed location at an undisclosed time. These shenanigans are not only in violation of Tennessee law, but they are simply that—shenanigans—which reflect very poorly on the MAS Board and on the city government and expose the MAS Board and the city government to liability for violations of the clear directives of the law and the courts.
The Tennessee Open Meetings Act (the Act) is very clear that “…the policy for [Tennessee is] that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret. ALL meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as provided by the constitution of Tennessee.” The Tennessee courts have gone on to state that the Act is to be construed most favorably to the public and applies to EVERY meeting of a governing body except where a statutory exemption exists.
According to the Act, a “governing body” means the members of any public body…with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration and a “public body” specifically includes ANY county or municipal board or commission.
In light of the very clear language of the Act, and the very clear directives of the Tennessee courts, the MAS Board members do not have the authority to close their meetings to the public. This denial of access flies directly in the face of the clear policy of the state in opening up government to the people.
I hope that this was a misunderstanding or miscommunication and that we will not have to pursue this any further. Please confirm that that MAS Board meetings will indeed be open to the public as required by law and will not be held under cloak of secrecy. I am following these developments closely, not only as an animal lover but as the chief legal officer for a large media company.
Very truly yours,
Polly Grunfeld Sack, Esq.