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TWSA struggles with open meetings laws

TWSA struggles with open meetings laws

When the Tuckaseigee Water and Sewer Authority held its annual meeting Tuesday, March 6, no members of the media were present. That’s because none of them were notified that the meeting was to take place. 

According to Executive Director Dan Harbaugh, the notice was not sent to TWSA’s media list because the computer of TWSA’s finance officer, who typically sends out the notices, crashed the Wednesday before the meeting. She had to use a temporary computer instead and inadvertently neglected to send out the notice. 

“This problem with the media notices is not something that was deliberate,” Harbaugh said.

The annual meeting was included on TWSA’s approved calendar of meetings, which includes 12 monthly work sessions, 12 monthly business meetings and one annual meeting. This makes it what state statute calls a “regular meeting,” meaning that no notice is required. 

However, state law requires that the calendar of regular meetings be kept on file with the clerk and posted on the entity’s website, if it has one. While the TWSA site lists the schedule for monthly work sessions and business meetings, it did not mention the March 6 meeting, as required by law. Harbaugh has since uploaded a copy of TWSA’s meeting calendar to the site, located under the “Documents” heading in the “Forms and Documents” category. 

While government entities are not required to send notices for regular meetings, many public bodies in this region elect to do so. In Jackson County, entities from the Jackson County Planning Board to the Town of Webster to the Town of Sylva mail out dates for regular meetings, typically with agendas attached, to those who have asked to receive such notices. TWSA also sends out meeting notices with agendas, though it is not always consistent about sending these notices out to the complete list. 

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North Carolina law does not outline any penalties for open meetings violations, but a person could file a lawsuit asking the court to declare that the meeting was illegal. 

According to agenda provided March 9, the March 6 meeting began with a social hour at 5 p.m., with the regular meeting starting at 6 p.m. Buddy Parton was sworn in as the new representative from Dillsboro, taking over from former Chairman Mike Fitzgerald. Harbaugh gave a report of TWSA’s activities from the past year, and the local governments that appoint TWSA’s board had a chance to ask questions. Tracy Rodes was sworn in as the new TWSA chairperson, and Brenda Oliver was re-elected as vice chair, Harbaugh said.

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