Lawsuit over alleged secret meetings dropped

Matthew Lane • Feb 15, 2014 at 11:58 AM

KINGSPORT — Two Kingsport women who sued the city of Kingsport, Sullivan County and their boards of education last year over alleged secret meetings have agreed to the dismissal of their lawsuit, saying they feel they have accomplished what they wanted with the lawsuit.

Angie Stanley and Monica Comsa filed the lawsuit in Sullivan County Chancery Court on April 19, naming Kingsport, Sullivan County, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and both the city and county boards of education as the defendants.

The two women claim elected officials held private meetings on school consolidation in violation of the Tennessee Open Meetings Act. Specifically, they cite a series of Facebook postings between them and Alderman Tom Parham on Parham’s 2013 re-election page.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs argue the meetings never involved a “governing body” and Parham made the comment on his Facebook page that the group was merely a steering committee and not a formal committee.

The committee allegedly included the mayor, city manager, the superintendents and school board chairs and some business leaders.

In October, a Greene County judge dismissed all of the defendants from the lawsuit, save Kingsport. Kingsport filed a motion for summary judgment in December and the plaintiffs have agreed to the dismissal in a recent notice.

“The reason we dismissed it is because the maximum thing we could have done to them, if they were found guilty, was to ask them to go through some classes on the (Tennessee Sunshine Law),” Stanley said, adding she did not want to cost the taxpayers any more money by continuing the lawsuit.

However, the two women say they have seen some changes with more meetings being held publicly. Specifically, when they attended a recent NETWORKS – Sullivan Partnership meeting, at first they were told the meeting was private, but soon after were invited in.

Stanley, who is running for a seat on the Sullivan County Commission this year, said the only way to change the culture of secret meetings is to vote new people into office.

“It’s happening everywhere, the city and the county, and we feel the community needs to know what’s going on, to know what they’re meeting on,” Stanley said.

The women have asked the Sullivan County Commission to move its meetings to the evenings in order for more people to attend or to televise the meetings, both of which Kingsport does with its meetings.

Comsa said she challenges the public to be more informed about government and attend some meetings to see just what is going on.

“Not just vote and sit back,” Comsa said. “You have to hold people accountable and that’s what we wanted accomplished with this lawsuit.”

Though both sides have agreed to the dismissal, Judge Wright has not formally signed off on the deal.

“An order of dismissal has been executed by legal counsels for both parties in the lawsuit, and we are awaiting the entry of the order into the court record,” said Tim Whaley, spokesman for the city of Kingsport.

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