Alabama Council Members Debate Use of Online City Meetings

The Alabama governor’s emergency order allowing teleconferenced meetings in limited situations during the COVID-19 pandemic is being abused by the council majority, according to at least one Decatur, Ala., councilman.

Gov. Kay Ivey’s order waives portions of the Open Meetings Act by allowing teleconferenced meetings, but only for COVID-19-related business and as “necessary to perform essential minimum functions of the governmental body.”

Councilmen Charles Kirby and Billy Jackson have objected that many teleconference votes have not been on essential issues, and Kirby argues that an in-person quorum of three people at the meetings meant the governor’s order did not apply.

The public can attend, but they have not been at meetings. They can watch on YouTube, which has a 30-second delay, and email or call in comments to the city clerk. 

Rather than seek a formal Attorney General’s opinion on the continued applicability of the governor’s March 18 order, City Attorney Herman Marks reported to the council in an email last week that, in order to expedite a response, Police Chief Nate Allen called a contact in the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and got an unofficial opinion on the use of electronic meetings during the pandemic.

“The answer came back that the use of remote electronic meetings, under the guidelines established in the governor’s proclamation originally, remain(s) in effect,” Marks wrote in the email. (Read more)