Warner Robins Mayor Randy Toms says he is still concerned over a meeting he says was not properly disclosed.
This issue was brought to light at Monday night's City Council meeting when the Mayor said he had concerns about an illegal undisclosed meeting, but some members of Council took offense to that implication.
It traces back to a meeting that was held at Lowe's Toyota in the spring of 2016. Councilwoman Carolyn Robbins, Councilmen Clifford Holmes, and Tim Thomas say the topic of city administrators did come up at the meeting. They say Shaheen invited them to a separate meeting he was having with a state municipal gas agency to say hello.
Mayor Randy Toms says the meeting raises questions in his mind.
“Three were there, one left and one came in, and then subsequently one left and one came back in. And I think that according to the open meetings law that's something that needs to be looked at,” Toms said in his office Tuesday.
The state of Georgia's open meeting law says if a majority of a board meets to discuss public business, it's a meeting.
It's got to be posted in advance and open to the public.
But, Council members Tim Thomas, Carolyn Robbins, and Clifford Holmes say it never reached a majority.
Holmes says when he showed up, he saw Thomas, Robbins, and Councilman Chuck Shaheen already in the building and turned around to go back to his car.
“That's three people. So, four? I'm not going in there now! That's four people in there. So, I stopped and turned around. I heard a door or something and I turned and looked and I saw Shaheen was no longer in there but I saw a coat tail go around the corner in the opposite direction,” Holmes said.
Holmes said he saw Shaheen in the parking lot when Holmes was leaving, they said hello, but that was the end of their conversation.
Councilman Thomas says he does not know of any coordinated effort to avoid the law as it pertained to that meeting. He described it as a casual invitation to stop by, if he had the time.
Holmes also said he was asked to stop by, “If I had the time.” He said Shaheen told him there was someone there he wanted him to meet.
Robbins said she was also invited to meet other Georgia municipal leaders at the meeting and hear from them about city administrators and city managers.
Mayor Toms says under his understanding of the open meetings law it could be illegal, if council members were leaving or entering the room to evade the requirements of the law.
Georgia law says the exemptions from disclosure do not apply if, “It Is shown that the primary purpose of the gathering or gatherings is to evade or avoid the requirements for conducting a meeting while discussing or conducting official business.”
But he says he does not think they were acting illegally on purpose. He says he is basing his accusation off the definition and his understanding of the law itself.
Robbins says she's never been part of an illegal meeting.
“I know I didn't do anything wrong, so, I'm not worried about anything because I know I didn't do anything wrong!” Robbins said.
Thomas and Holmes agreed. Holmes says these kinds of unplanned switches, to keep from breaking the law, have happened before.
Holmes, in an example, said there was a time he, Robbins, and Thomas were meeting downstairs at City Hall and Toms entered the room unexpectedly. Holmes says Thomas left immediately to avoid having a majority present.
City attorney Jim Elliott says he was in part of the 2016 meeting and says he never saw more than three council members in the room. He left when Councilman Holmes left and said he did not know if Shaheen went back into the room.
Elliott also said he is not currently investigating nor knows of any illegal undisclosed meetings involving council members. But, Elliott said more than one switch to avoid breaking the law could be ‘concerning,’ but an investigation would have to determine intent. Meaning, they’d have to prove there was intent to purposely avoid the requirements of the law.
Mayor Toms says he is planning a meeting with the Georgia State Attorney General's office to re-examine the meeting. He also expressed a desire to have any meetings concerning the addition of a city administrator to the government open and public, no matter who’s present.
Councilman Chuck Shaheen told WMAZ, “Randy Toms falsely accused us of having an illegal meeting when our city attorney was there to keep us within guidelines.”