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Special meeting to discuss city’s previous action

Legality of December 1 votes  in closed session in doubt

SARAH LOWERY
Staff Writer
The Lincolnton City Council will conduct a special called meeting tonight in the Council Chambers of City Hall.
The purpose of the meeting is to “discuss previous action taken” during the Dec. 1 regular meeting, according to a notice sent to the Times-News on Monday morning.
At the December meeting, council members met in closed session to discuss City Manager Jeff Emory’s contract, which they ended up extending for two years with no increase in pay. Following this closed session, it was also announced that a letter would be drafted by City Attorney T.J. Wilson and sent to the online publication, The Carolina Scoop, for alleging in a Dec. 1 article that Emory “plays politics on the job.”
As previously reported, this session appears to be at odds with the North Carolina Open Meetings Law, which mandates that any action taken to be done so in open session, even if discussion is allowed in closed session.
Additionally, city officials did not disclose the breakdown of votes for either issue or any details regarding the letter at the time.
The Times-News confirmed with Amanda Martin, general counsel for the North Carolina Press Association and an expert in media law, that the action was taken illegally and has submitted a standing public-records request to the city for the wording of the motions on which action was taken, the vote breakdowns and any drafts of the letter to The Carolina Scoop.
The city has not yet complied with that request.
Martin also told the Times-News she couldn’t “fathom any basis” for the proposed letter The Scoop having been discussed in closed session.
Jon Mayhew, owner and publisher of the website, has said that he stands by his reporting and that he believes his First Amendment rights are being challenged by the city’s attempt to “muscle” him.
In advance of the meeting, he released prepared remarks he plans to make tonight, addressing council members.
“I was and am in shock over the decision by the Lincolnton City Council to send my Internet publication and me this letter,” Mayhew wrote.
“Your decision has serious First Amendment implications, both for me personally, my publication and journalism as a whole.
“While disagreement with whatever is printed is encouraged, a letter chastising a member of the media sent from any government body violates the core of the First Amendment and can have several implications for years to come.”
Mayhew also claimed in the statement that he has received an anonymous tip that “the letter issue” will be dropped, but he added that the issue is far from over for him. He is calling for the council members and city manager to be reprimanded nonetheless.
The meeting begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

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