A Lebanon resident has filed another lawsuit against the Lebanon City Council claiming open meetings violations after filing a lawsuit last year for the same reason.
Lorrie Hicks alleges in her lawsuit — filed in Wilson County Chancery Court — that the council violated the state’s Open Meetings Act by closing a portion of the Feb. 27 council meeting to the public and failed to provide meeting minutes for the two prior meetings.
Hicks focused on the Feb. 27 council meeting in which Debbie Jessen, Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash’s mayoral assistant, said she would fill in for the absent mayor and serve as meeting chair. Mayor Pro Tem and Ward 2 Councilor Fred Burton was present for the meeting and should have presided over the meeting, according to the city charter.
At one point during the meeting, Jessen led councilors into a legal meeting.
Lebanon councilors routinely meet in closed sessions with City Attorney Andy Wright to discuss pending legal matters, which is allowed under attorney-client privilege. However, Wright was not present for the Feb. 27 meeting and its closed legal session.
In the lawsuit, Hicks also alleges she submitted a public records request May 7 for minutes of council workshop meetings from Jan. 2 and Feb. 13, which she said the city failed to produce.
The Open Meetings Act states “The minutes of a meeting of any such governmental body shall be promptly and fully recorded, shall be open to public inspection, and shall include, but not be limited to, a record of persons present, all motions, proposals and resolutions offered, the results of any votes taken, and a record of individual votes in the event of roll call.”
Governmental bodies are required to respond to public records requests within seven business days either by providing the records, denying the records or providing an estimate on when the records will be available.
In the lawsuit, correspondence between Wright and Hicks discussing the Jan. 2 and Feb. 13 minutes is included.
“All the minutes I took are still in my handwriting and haven’t been transcribed yet. They were boxed up along with a bunch of other notes on various things and made the move to the Mitchell House (city’s new office),” Wright wrote in an email to Hicks dated April 23. “I can’t think off the top of my head of where that box is right now. Once I’m back to the office, I promise to try and track them down for you. It will be early May sometime unfortunately.”
Hicks settled a claim with the Lebanon City Council last year after Ward 3 Councilor Camille Burdine appeared to violate the Open Meetings Act when she discussed her intended vote on a zoning item through email.
The council underwent open meetings training and took a revote on the affected items as a result of the settlement. The group received training in August from former Open Records Counsel Elisha Hodge.
Wright, who was named in the most recent lawsuit, could be a potential witness and did not comment on the allegations. Additionally, outside legal counsel is being sought for the city due to Wright’s naming in the lawsuit.