Judge denies Meck GOP restraining order request against county commissioners

Mecklenburg GOP takes county to court

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - A superior court judge denied local republicans plea to get Mecklenburg County commissioners to stop emailing everyone on the board at the same time. Mecklenburg County Republican Party Chair Chris Turner filed a lawsuit and temporary restraining order against county commissioners claiming that they violated open meeting laws by emailing and discussing budget amendments in private instead of talking about them in a public meeting.

Meck GOP argued that an email from Commission Chair George Dunlap sent to the rest of the commissioners outlining budget adjustments was a violation of open meeting laws. But Special Superior Court Judge Adam Conrad said that one email was not enough to grant a restraining order against the entire commission.

WBTV Investigates uncovered other emails from Commissioners Susan Harden and Elaine Powell in which additional budget adjustments and questions were exchanged between all the commissioners. A public records expert who spoke to WBTV said that would be a violation of the open meetings law.

The attorney representing Meck GOP Jeremy Stephensen mentioned those emails in court but did not have any copies of them to produce.

Mecklenburg County retained attorney Jim Cooney, who represented one of the Duke Lacrosse players wrongfully accused of rape. Cooney argued that commissioners can discuss public business in a non-public setting as long as it is voted on in an open public meeting afterward.

Cooney also said that since the budget was already voted on and passed prohibiting commissioners from emailing each other would not accomplish anything.

While the restraining order was denied the lawsuit moves forward although the Judge Conrad cast doubt on its outcome. Conrad said the current case was similar to one out of Hildebran, NC in which a judge determined that elected officials did violate open meeting laws by holding a closed door meeting on demolishing a school building but upheld their decision saying that the violation did not impact the outcome of the vote.

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