Jul 9 2008

There was some drama at the City of Alcoa Board of Commissioners meeting last night when a rezoning got postponed due to an apparent sunshine law violation.

The rezoning was up for passage on a second reading, when the City Attorney Shelly Wilson advised commission that "after the last board meeting the City Attorney received a phone call from a person who had attended the meeting, and as a result of that phone call conducted an investigation. While the City Attorney does not feel that there is any violation of the zoning assignment on this particular resolution, in an abundance of caution and in the spirit of the law we recommend that we begin anew the process of zoning assignment for [the resolution]."

The City Attorney recommended that the resolution be pulled from the agenda and scheduled for a new first reading and a public hearing at the next meeting. Commission agreed and moved to rescind the previous action and reschedule it for August.

After the vote, a citizen asked how they could get more information on the nature of the investigation and what the questions were and who was asking the questions. The City Attorney said there were no questions asked, and it was "strictly an investigation of the law behind the action that was taken."

Another citizen asked if it had to do with the Sunshine Law, and the City Attorney replied "Yes."

When questioned further about the do-over, the City Attorney said there would not be a workshop, there would be a public hearing on the agenda during the next commission meeting, and there would be discussion only if commission chose to discuss it and that the law does not require them to discuss it. She said the law does call for a public hearing, so members of the public will be entitled to "meet within certain boundaries."

Under further questioning, the City Attorney said that "the briefing that was referred to during the meeting as a workshop took place just prior to the commission meeting" and that it took place in the Municipal Building but not in Commission Chambers. She also said it was not open to the public, that all commissioners were present, and that the meeting was conducted by staff members and the City Attorney.

When the City Attorney said there was discussion about the rezoning, Mayor Mull and other commissioners interrupted to note that "there was no discussion." The City Attorney clarified, saying "the discussion was between the City Attorney and the staff members. The commissioners were not involved in any discussion, there was no vote, no deliberation, nothing held at that briefing, or workshop." and also said that it "was not a public meeting, we are starting the process over again."

The citizen then said "For the record, I'm asking that the discussion and the presentation to the Board of Commissioners be a public meeting so that those of us who are affected by this can see what they're considering and what they're learning."

The City Attorney said "There will be no further discussions, or briefings, or workshops, it's going straight to the first public hearing that we had previously, we're redoing it, along with the first reading."

All of this led to some heated discussion, with one commissioner taking offense at having his integrity questioned. When asked if the public would be able to present their concerns at the next meeting, Mayor Mull told them that commission had already heard it and they weren't going to sit through two or three more hours rehashing the same information that has already been presented.

This is a textbook case example of how not to run afoul of the state Sunshine Law. The City is acknowledging a possible violation. The only remedy provided in state law is to nullify any action or decisions flowing from a closed meeting and to do it over, which is what the city is doing by rescinding the first reading vote and restarting the process. The citizens have a valid argument, however, that the discussion of their concerns was also part of the nullified public commission action that followed the closed meeting, so that discussion is also voided and should therefore be allowed in the "do-over."

The property in question is approx. 11 acres off Old Topside Road, surrounded by single-family residential neighborhoods. The developer, Essa, Inc., wants to put a 100+ unit apartment building there. Area residents in attendance at last night's meeting are concerned about the development because of infrastructure and traffic and other issues, and they don't feel they are being represented or heard.

You can listen to the discussion here.

UPDATE: News coverage of controversy at the first reading.

UPDATE: Maryville Daily Times report on Tuesday's meeting.

Is BlountViews the ONLY local media covering Alcoa now??

Great work BlountViews - it's amazing that a local blog is the only media outlet that considers the Alcoa Board of Commissioners worthy of coverage.

who is the City of Alcoa

who is the City of Alcoa Attny?

Shelly Wilson, I believe.

Shelly Wilson, I believe.

17 units per acre is medium density?

Oh, ouch... what on earth would high density be?

I feel for these people. You

I feel for these people. You should visit this location. Very rural. Where there are apartments in that area is is bringing down property values. City of Alcoa has very low requirements for new private development fitting in to the surroundings or making the surroundings better. Of course, this is not unique to Alcoa.

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