CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The Mecklenburg County Republican Chair has filed a lawsuit against Mecklenburg county commissioners alleging they violated open meetings laws during the budget process. WBTV uncovered several emails between commissioners showing that some of them made motions, suggestions and asked questions before the budget amendment vote in May.
Mecklenburg County Republican Party Chairman Chris Young told WBTV that the lawsuit was not intended to be partisan.
“The actions that George Dunlap took were in blatant violation of open meetings laws,” Young said.
“The statutes are put in place to allow residents to be part of the process and should be followed at all times.”
Under North Carolina statutes the only consequences that can come from violating open meetings laws have to be initiated by a lawsuit.
“A superior court judge could undo any decision that was made as a result of an open meetings law violation,” open records attorney Jonathan Jones said.
Jones said the court could also issue an injunction against the commission which would subject them to being held in contempt if open meeting laws were violated again.
Questions about transparency began after Commissioner Pat Cotham released an email sent from Chairman George Dunlap to the commissioners outlining the agreed-upon amendments that would be made to the budget.
At the budget amendment vote, Dunlap told WBTV that email was based upon information he’d gathered from meeting with commissioners either individually or in small groups and said the email did not violate the law.
In the wake of those revelations, WBTV requested additional emails from Dunlap and other commissioners.
Among the documents WBTV has received in response to our follow-up request are emails from Vice Chairwoman Elaine Powell and Commissioner Susan Harden, both of which proposed specific changes to the budget and were sent to the entire commission and county staff.
County attorney Tyrone Wade has maintained that he did not believe their email conversations were a violation of open records law. WBTV reached out to both Wade and a county spokesperson to understand his legal justification but no specifics were given.
Jones feels differently.
“This looks a lot like the kind of deliberation that is supposed to occur in a public setting,” Jones said.