Tattnall Commissioners appeared to violate the Georgia Open Meetings Act Monday when they chose to discuss bids and recommendations from a project manager for a construction project in executive session.

The decision to go into executive session was made in the presence of County Attorney Joe McGovern on the matter stemmed from an agenda item that dealt with bids requested for the construction contract for an EMS building in Glennville. The project is supposed to erect a new EMS building on an empty lot. The bids came in over budget so a project manager not employed by the county offered four options for commissioner which ranged from adjusting the budget, negotiating, rejecting all the bids and starting over, and rejecting the bids and hiring another construction manager to get new bids.

Chairman Trim made it known that he would like to go with option 4 – to reject all the bids and advertise for a construction manager to assist in lowering costs. Commissioner Bobby Kennedy commented that he was not comfortable with that and would like to look at other options, including rejecting all the bids and starting over completely.

County Manager Frank Murphy suggested that commissioners “come back to this after we’ve had a chance to go in executive session and discuss it with Mr. Joe (McGovern).” Chairman Trim replied with, “that’d be fine.” The item was not addressed again in open meeting and McGovern was asked if they needed to go into executive session for any reason. McGovern stated for “real estate” and “legal.”

The Georgia Open Meetings Act [found here in O.C.G.A. § 50-14-3] limits executive session to a select few purposes which include:

  1. To consult and meet with legal counsel pertain to pending or potential litigation, settlement, claims, administrative proceedings, or other judicial actions brought or to be brought by or against the county or commissioners or an employee; (OCGA 50-14-2
  2. Real estate – specifically:
    1. Authorizing negotiations to purchase, dispose, or lease property
    2. Authorizing the order of an appraisal for acquisition or disposal of real estate
    3. Entering into a contract to purchase, dispose of, or lease property subject to approval in a subsequent public vote; or
    4. Enter into an option to purchase, dispose of, or lease real estate subject to approval in subsequent public vote.
  3. Discussion of personnel matters (employment, compensation, appointment, etc).

McGovern’s reason of “legal” is not a justifiable reason, as there is no pending potential litigation, to enter into executive session and the bids for the construction of an EMS building do not fall into the state definition of real estate matters or ‘potential litigation.’

You can listen to the audio on this agenda item below. (Story continues below)

At the end of the meeting, McGovern was asked if they needed to go into executive session for any reason. McGovern stated for “real estate” and “legal.” The term “legal” is not a justifiable reason to enter into executive session.

The Commissioners made a vote to go into executive session. Upon returning, Chairman Trim again made it known that he would like to go with the 4th option and Commissioner Bobby Kennedy made the motion. It was seconded and approved unanimously.

A complaint has been filed by AllOnGeorgia with the Georgia Attorney General’s Office. The state’s constitutional office has the ability to issue a reprimand, impose fines, and require sunshine law training for elected officials. Anyone present in the meeting, including the county attorney, would be included. The county clerk was not present at the February meeting as she was at training. Commissioner Burkhalter was not present at Monday’s meeting either.

You can listen to the audio from the vote upon returning from executive session below.

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