Paint Rock, Ala. in apparent violation of open meetings law — town council bars non-residents, restricts reporters at meetings
According to a column written by Jackson County Sentinel Brandon Cox, one northeastern Alabama community has some “flat illegal” rules governing its town council meetings.
Jackson County’s Paint Rock appears to be in violation of Alabama Open Meetings Act, a law that requires all governmental meetings to be open to the public.
The town of a few hundred along U.S. 72, a major thoroughfare between Huntsville and Chattanooga, Tenn., his very restrictive guidelines for non-Paint Rock residents and media covering their proceedings, as Cox points out in his article:
Item 10 states, “All regular scheduled meetings are open to the residents/property owners of the Town of Paint Rock. Anyone not residing in the town limits, or anyone not owning property within the town limits will not be permitted without prior approval of the council.”
Item 12 states, “Members of the media, i.e.: newspaper, television, radio, etc. will not be allowed without prior approval from the council majority. When asking for approval, you must present a valid reason/justification for the media to attend.”
Item 13 states, “Recording of any meeting of the town council is not permitted. Posting of any Town minutes, email to council members, financial statements, etc., to ANY unauthorized media source is strictly forbidden.”
Cox went on to quote Paint Rock Mayor Brenda Fisk, who defended the rules.
“What goes on in Paint Rock is the business of the people who live in Paint Rock,” Fisk said according to Cox’s report. “I really don’t see the benefit for anyone outside of Paint Rock or who doesn’t own property here to come to these meetings. They’re open to anyone who lives here. Anyone else can stand outside the door, but I can close the door.
On Tuesday, Cox tweeted an update on his column and said the Paint Rock mayor was open to walking back the restrictions.
Recent editorial on Paint Rock’s meeting guidelines seemed to strike a nerve around the state and country. To follow up, I’m told the mayor is walking back the no press/no outsiders rules. We’re sending a correspondent to their town meeting tonight to see what come of it.
— Brandon Cox (@BrandonJCox) June 12, 2018
In 2014, the Paint Rock made local headlines because it moved to disband its municipal court system in the name of cost-cutting. However, some residents said that measure was about protecting then-Mayor Jane Nevels’ son, who pled guilty to two counts of harassing communications and DUI.