Avondale Estates Downtown Development Authority violated Open Meetings ActPhoto obtained via the city of Avondale Estates website.
The attorney for the Avondale Estates Downtown Development Authority admitted that the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) violated the Open Meetings Act by holding a closed-door session to discuss vacancies on the board.
DDA attorney James Monacell responded to an inquiry from the state Attorney General’s Office about the meeting. The AG was responding to a complaint filed by resident David Mattingly regarding a Jan. 7 meeting and an Oct. 27 meeting, which were closed to the public to discuss the vacancies.
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The Open Meetings Act does allow for closed meetings, called executive sessions, in certain situations, like discussing a personnel matter. The law also states that, “Meetings by an agency to discuss or take action on the filling of a vacancy in the membership of the agency itself shall at all times be open to the public.”
Monacell said the DDA was acting on advice from City Manager Clai Brown, who was repeating advice he had heard from the city attorney regarding executive sessions by the Board of Mayor and Commissioners. Avondale’s City Commission is represented by a different law firm, Wilson, Morton & Downs, than the DDA, which is represented by Smith, Gambrell & Russell.
Wilson, Morton & Downs is the law firm of Bob Wilson, and in addition to the city of Avondale Estates, the firm also represents the city of Decatur and City Schools of Decatur.
Wilson told Decaturish via email, “Please be advised that this firm DOES NOT represent the DDA. We have NOT, at any time, given legal advice to the DDA as that entity is not our client.”
The City Commission appoints DDA members.
In his response, Monacell told the Attorney General, “The City Manager sought advice from the City Attorney concerning whether the Mayor and Commission’s deliberations on new appointments to the Downtown Development Authority were appropriately to be held in executive session and was advised, consistent with (the law) that was the case.
“The [DDA] planned to interview persons who would be considered for open positions on the [DDA] and asked the City Manager for advice on whether this appropriately would be done in executive session. The City Manager repeated the advice he had received from the City Attorney. Unfortunately … the same statutory section has an exception stating that when a matter concerning an appointment of a director to an Authority is considered by the Authority itself, the proceedings are open to the public.”
Monacell said the DDA’s mistake was “inadvertent and made in good faith.” He said most of the current DDA members are new and had not completed membership training. He said training is scheduled “in the near future.”
Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo thanked Monacell for his response. She said the AG’s Office also offers training sessions on the Open Meetings Act, should the DDA require it. She said the AG would close the file on Mattingly’s complaint.
Decaturish sent a message to City Manager Brown seeking comment on the letter and will update this story when he responds.
Mattingly thanked the AG’s office for looking into his complaint.
“I don’t blame members of the DDA for getting caught in this mess,” he said. “What I would like to know is why our City Manager is instructing our citizen board members to break the law. The law is written so clearly, I can’t accept the idea that this was a misunderstanding. We count on Mr. Brown to protect the rights of our citizens, and our expectations of transparency. This blatant violation in my opinion seems to expose either a lack of essential training or a lethargic attitude toward transparency at our city hall. I noted that at the end of the Attorney General’s letter, it would be a great positive step forward to accept the attorney general’s offer of training sessions and presentations on the Open Meetings Act.”
Here is the original letter from Colangelo, as well as the reply from the DDA and her response.