Southport violated open meetings law when discussing police chief’s arrest

Southport violated open meetings law when discussing police chief’s arrest

SOUTHPORT, NC (WECT) - The Southport Board of Aldermen violated open meetings law Thursday when it convened an emergency meeting to discuss the arrest of Police Chief Gary Smith.

At the midday meeting Thursday, the board decided to suspended operations for the entire police department and temporarily turn over law enforcement duties to the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office. State law allows municipalities to call emergency meetings as long as local media is notified.

"Due to the sudden nature of the news, we forgot to notify the media," City Manager Bruce Oakley confirmed to WECT Friday morning.

But even without proper notification of the meeting, the decisions made were legal, according to Oakley.

"We believe the mayor and myself could make the decisions due to the circumstances," Oakley said.

Oakley says the board will conduct a new meeting most likely next Wednesday to reaffirm the decisions made Thursday.

When asked about the potential violation of open meetings law during a Thursday news conference, officials deflected the allegations and said they didn't have the luxury of time to follow state law. Brunswick County District Attorney Jon David notified Southport Mayor Jerry Dove and Oakley at 8:30 Thursday morning of the pending arrest of Smith. The meeting of the alderman took place three and a half hours later at noon.

N.C.G.S. 160A-71 also requires councils to give a six-hour heads up to members in advance of special meetings. The city apparently violated that law by not adhering to the time requirement, according to Jonathan Jones, director of the N.C. Open Government Coalition.

However, Oakley says the Southport city attorney contends they were not beholden to a time frame to announce that meeting.

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