By Max Hrenda
When the Carter County Election Commission’s Monday meeting was moved up 30 minutes, it might not have seemed like much of a change.
But it was.
By meeting 30 minutes before the scheduled 9 a.m. time and not giving public notice, the commission violated Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act – or “Sunshine” Law.
Commission Chairman Doug Buckles said he arranged for the meeting to be moved to 8:30 a.m. so he could serve as a pallbearer at a funeral Monday morning.
Taking responsibility for the violation, Buckles said he didn’t consider the Sunshine Law or notifying the public when he rescheduled the meeting.
“I don’t know why I didn’t,” Buckles said. “It was just an oversight on my part, and I’m the one who did it.
“I absolutely didn’t mean to do anything wrong.”
Buckles said arrangements for the funeral were made late in the weekend. He said he contacted Administrator of Elections Tracy Harris Sunday night and asked her to reschedule the meeting for 8:30.
“I got ahold of the other election commissioners and asked if they could come in 30 minutes early,” Buckles said. “That way I wouldn’t get it all screwed up. They agreed, and didn’t see any problems.”
Tennessee’s Open Meeting Act states that, “Any such governmental body which holds a meeting previously scheduled by statute, ordinance, or resolution shall give adequate public notice of such meeting.”
When asked if he had attempted to notify the public of the change, Buckles replied, “I did not.”
The STAR learned of the rescheduling upon arriving at the meeting’s regularly scheduled time of 9 a.m.
When a government body violates the Open Meetings Act, the law states that, “Any action taken at a meeting in violation of this part shall be void and of no effect.”
Harris said no policy decisions were reached at Monday’s meeting.
“The only things that were voted on were the minutes and the adjournment,” Harris said.
According to the recorded minutes of the meeting, which are available to the public, the commission first determined that Buckles, Harris, and Election Commissioner Millard Garland would attend a seminar on election law in Memphis between June 16 and June 18.
Harris then notified the commissioners that the county’s Budget Committee was holding a workshop on Monday night, but no one would be attending.