10/14/13 — County's closed meeting questioned

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County's closed meeting questioned

By Steve Herring
Published in News on October 14, 2013 1:46 PM

Wayne County commissioners justified a Friday morning closed meeting by citing the need to preserve attorney-client privilege.

But the attorney for the N.C. Press Association said they legally should not have kept the session private.

And their apparent discussion of the county's troubled radio system during the three-hour closed-door meeting should have been held in open session anyway, attorney Amanda Martin said.

The privilege cited for the closed-door meeting is between the attorney and client only, Ms. Martin said.

As such, allowing someone other than County Attorney Borden Parker and the commissioners into the meeting means the privilege provision did not apply, Ms. Martin said.

County staff meeting with commissioners were Parker, Joe Gurley, Office of Emergency Services director, Mel Powers, emergency medical and security director, Brian Taylor, fire marshal, Pam Holt, finance director, Lee Smith, county manager, and Marcia Wilson, clerk to the board.

Others in attendance at the special-called meeting were consultant Bob Hamlin and officials with Radio Communications Co. of Cary, including owner Ken Brody and Randy Griffin.

Portions of the state's Open Meetings Law may allow commissioners to invite others into closed sessions, but not the one dealing with attorney-client privilege, she said.

"I do not believe they had a basis in asking for privilege (to close the meeting)," Ms. Martin said.

Also, since the closed session was improperly called, the minutes and any notes taken during the meeting should be made public, she said.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery made the motion to enter closed session to preserve the attorney-client privilege. It was approved 6-0.

Commissioner John Bell had a previous appointment and did not attend the meeting held at the Wayne County Development Alliance office.

No action was taken after the board returned to open session.

The commissioners approved a $9.7 million loan for the new radio system in September 2008. The new digital system was designed to replace the nearly 40-year-old analog system.

The cost included two new towers and new radios for all of the county's fire departments, law enforcement offices and rescue units.

The switchover to the new system came in the spring of 2011.

It has been plagued with problems from the start, including interference from systems in other area which prompted the county to purchase additional frequencies.

There have been complaints by emergency personnel that the radios do not work as they should.

It has become a familiar refrain at commissioners' meetings that progress is being made and the problems should soon be resolved.