By Leeann Akers - Managing Editor
Dec. 7, 2012 — A special judge has handed down a ruling in the Renee Stewart and Carter County Attorney Patrick Flannery vs. Carter County Fiscal Court case.
Judge John David Preston of Johnson, Martin, and Lawrence counties presided over the bench trial which was held Nov. 29. After a full day of testimony, Preston ruled against Stewart and Flannery in a judgment handed down on Dec. 6.
In his ruling, Preston sited another Open Meeting Violation case, Knox County vs. Hammons, which ruled that the Knox County Fiscal Court held its meeting at “such inconvenient locations as to effectively render public participation impossible.”
When taking that case into account, Preston concluded that with regard to the statutory language, as a matter of law, that the Carter County Fiscal Court violated the Open Meetings Act, and that adjournment to the much larger old Circuit Courtroom would have been feasible.
However, Preston also took into account case law on the issue, which says the burden imposed on the plaintiffs, in this case Renee Stewart and Carter County Attorney Patrick Flannery, is extraordinarily high.
Preston said in his ruling that the case law states that Open Meetings statutes are designed to prevent government bodies from rendering public participation “impossible.” Because the plaintiffs, Stewart and Flannery, were unable to meet the “impossibility standard,” they lost the case.
“They are saying that a public agency can have a meeting in a broom closet if they want and that the Open Meetings Act has no teeth,” Flannery said. “This is a concern for anyone who has an interest in local government. I think this ruling goes against the spirit of the Open Meetings Act.”
It is unclear at this time if Flannery and Stewart will appeal the ruling.