04/21/13 — Press Association attorney disputes vote count

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Press Association attorney disputes vote count

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 21, 2013 1:50 AM

A vote taken on the issue of where it is permissable to publish public notices was questionable at best or manipulated by the committee chairman at its worst, the bill's opponents say.

Committee clerk Kaye Culberson, who works in office of committee Co-chair Sen. Jim Davis, R-Greene, said she was only authorized to release what is in the official minutes of the meeting.

Those meetings show there were 13 members present and seven voted for the measure and six voted against it. It does not indicate how the senators voted.

Those numbers are disputed by John Bussian, counsel to the N.C. Press Association, who was in attendance for the vote this week.

"There are some dramatically different things that I would have to tell you than what you have been told," Bussian said. "The first thing is that you have got to remember that the woman who said she was the clerk of the committee is essentially the chairman's executive assistant or secretary.

"So remember who the chairman is and what sort crossfire that he got drawn into. So I would say first of all consider the source."

The meeting was orchestrated with "great hostility" toward the press by Davis and Co-Chairman Tommy Tucker, R-Union, Bussian said. The two men have gone "hand-in-hand" in "railroading" the measure "down the throats" of the press, he said.

Bussian noted that Tucker was quoted in the Charlotte Observer as saying the measure had been approved 6-5.

"So whatever you are being told is at odds with what Tucker himself said, so that is No. 1," the attorney said. "No. 2: One of the people who did not call you back was the guy who showed up briefly at the start of the hearing then left. That is Fletcher L. Hartsell Jr., (R-Cabarrus)."

Bussian said he had spent a long time talking to David Woronoff, publisher of The Pilot in Southern Pines, prior to the meeting.

"David, I just got off the phone with him, and he says Hartsell was not there for the vote," Bussian said. "So there were 11 people around the table, not counting the chairman at the time the vote occurred. In my experience, 20 years doing this, the chairman typically does not vote unless there is a tie.

"So that would sit with what he was trying to do. He looked out over the audience and he thought it was 6-5 in favor of the bill when we had six votes just like you describe it. So there is no way he could come up with five votes for us because there are five Democrats on the committee, plus Pate. That is six (against)."

Absent were Republican committee members Stan Bingham, R- Davidson, and Thom Goolsby, R-New Hanover.

The fourth was Hartsell who showed up, but left before the vote and is a "key figure" in the issue, Bussian said.

"So everybody who was in our camp who watched the table at the time that this vote was called there were 11 people sitting down plus the chairman standing up," he said.

So the most the vote could have been was 6-6 and bills cannot advance out of committee on a tie vote, he said.

"No wonder (Tucker) gaveled it down," Bussian said. "I have been in a lot of committee meetings and a lot of chairmen have said, 'Can I just have a show of hands.' That is the fair way to do it especially when you have a senator, Michael Walters, asking for, 'Mr. Chairman, can I have a head count?'

"To deny a member a head count. Why didn't Tucker just stop the meeting and say, 'I tell you what. I think it is 7-6,' and everybody goes, 'Wait a minute. There aren't 13 people here.' But he did say it was 6-5. Where did he get that?"