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'Rolling quorum' helps local governments skirt open meetings laws

1:46 AM, Jan 15, 2014   |    comments
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Snellville mayor Kelly Kautz shows the room where three city council members sat while a fourth stood outside the doorway.

(WXIA) -- When the powerful meet in secret, it makes it doubly difficult for the public to hold them accountable. One method they're using is what's called a rolling quorum -- where members of a city council or county commission meet -- but one or members listen from another room.

The state open meeting laws explicitly require that meetings of city councils and county commissions give notice of their meetings. But when members don't want the public there -- here's one way around it.

"Dysfunctional may be a good word to describe our city council," said Snellville Mayor Kelly Kautz.

Kautz says a secret city council meeting in a second floor office in City Hall on a Friday night exemplified the governmental dysfunction of her city.

"And the meeting was going on in here," she said. "Three members of council were sitting - behind here, and a fourth one out here.  All together they're a majority and constitute a quorum."

In what Snellville might call a normal city council meeting, a four-member quorum is necessary to take votes. Such meetings also require advance public notice. Kautz says there was no public notice of that Friday night meeting in the upstairs office.

"I asked the question, 'Is this an illegal meeting going on?'" Kautz said. "And the response I received was no because Councilman Howard was standing in the hallway."

Some government watchdogs call this a rolling quorum. Here's how one recently worked in Cobb County during a county commission briefing on the new Braves stadium. Two county commissioners, one short of a quorum, listened to the briefing.

Two more commissioners waiting just outside the room would rotate in as the others rotated out. A Cobb County spokesman says the meeting never violated the open meetings law.

"It's a blatant attempt to get around the open meetings laws and keep the public shut out of the process," said William Perry of Common Cause Georgia.

In Snellville, Mayor Kautz says she doesn't expect to stumble into any more secret meetings in that upstairs office at City Hall,  because, she says, the council has deactivated her key card access to those offices.

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