“By God, I did catch him!” exclaimed Leicester resident Jerry Rice, speaking about Buncombe County Commissioner Bill Stanley.
Rice says he walked into the commissioners’ office suite shortly before their Jan. 19 meeting to find Chairman Nathan Ramsey, Commissioner David Young, Stanley and County Manager Wanda Greene in the midst of a conference call with Paul A. Meyer, the assistant general counsel for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners.
And according to N.C. Press Association attorney Mike Tadych, this constitutes an explicit violation of N.C. general statute 143-318, the state’s open-meetings law. “The presence of three out of five commissioners makes it a meeting. All official meetings of a public body must be open to the public, which must be given advance notice,” Tadych explained.
“They were discussing the use of paper ballots for the May election and the use of [Help America Vote Act] funds,” Rice told Xpress. “Meyer said, ‘I have something to tell you about [voting-machine manufacturer] ES&S, but it’s not for public consumption.’
“David Young said, ‘There’s a member of the public here,’ and Bill Stanley said, ‘He always comes early to catch us doing something illegal.’ Then he and Nathan laughed and Wanda picked up the receiver, which cut off the intercom.”
Contacted by Xpress, Meyer confirmed both having held the conversation and its subject. “The whole conversation we had was about what options they have. We talked a fair amount about running a paper ballot.”
Asked if he’d commented about voting-machine manufacturer Election Systems & Software, Meyer said he’d indicated that there was some question about whether counties buying the machines would get them in time for the May election.
Young told Xpress that he feels the meeting was legal. “All we were doing was receiving information; we were just hearing about our options. We didn’t debate the issue.”
Tadych, however, said, “Young is describing a hearing, and hearings are official meetings under N.C.G.S. 143.318.10.(b).”
Rice concluded: “It makes me more suspicious now than ever about how much of this goes on by phone and Internet. That’s the reason we have no discussion in meetings. They’ve already made the decisions in the back room.”
— by Cecil Bothwell