Action taken in closed session at Thursdayâ€™s Lincolnton City Council meeting appears to be at odds with the North Carolina Open Meetings Law.
A legal expert specializing in that statute has advised the Times-News that the city acted illegally.
The question of legality stems from the fact that open-meeting statutes require any action taken to be done in open session, even if discussion is allowed in closed session.
As the Times-News previously reported, council members opted to extend City Manager Jeff Emoryâ€™s contract for two years while not offering him an increase in pay.
It was also announced that City Attorney T.J. Wilson had been asked during the closed session to draft a letter to the online publication, The Carolina Scoop, for alleging in a Dec. 1 article that Emory â€œplays politics on the job.â€ At the time, city officials did not release any details of what would be included in the letter.
In this case, the action was taken in closed session and then announced after the fact. Furthermore, the breakdown of votes for either issue was also not disclosed.
Amanda Martin, general counsel for the North Carolina Press Association and an expert in media law, told the Times-News on Friday that it sounded to her â€œas if the action was taken illegally.â€
â€œThe (Open Meetings Law) says that final action must be taken in open session, and G.S. 143-318.13 suggests that you always have a right to know who voted how on a given matter,â€ Martin said.
Regarding the letter to The Carolina Scoop, Martin added, â€œI cannot fathom any basis for that having been discussed in closed session.â€
Jon Mayhew, owner and publisher of the website, responded with a statement Friday morning, saying, â€œThis is a direct challenge to my First Amendment rights as an Internet newspaper publisher and owner.â€
Additionally, he told the Times-News that he stands by his reporting and believes the action is an â€œattempt to muscleâ€ him. Mayhew maintains that if his sources were known, his claims would not be in question.