School of Government says actions were within rights
The Indian Trail Town Council may have been within their rights July 26 when they excluded Mayor John Quinn from the interview process of candidates for the town’s vacant council seat.
“Mayors have very limited authority in North Carolina,” said Frayda Bluestein, dean of the North Carolina School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Bluestein says mayors have statutory authority limited to ceremonial matters and presiding over meetings. “It’s possible the mayor has participation rights by virtue of being elected to office, or based on the fact that he might have to vote in the case of a tie,” she said.
With an even number of council members present at the July 26 meeting, Quinn might have been needed for his tie-breaking power. But those council members – Robert Allen, Gary D’Onofrio, Jeff Goodall and Darlene Luther – voted to exclude Quinn from the meeting and threatened to have him ejected for attempting to question candidates.
Council went on to appoint Roger Stanton to the seat, recently vacated by John Hullinger.
A tie at the meeting wasn’t ever likely, Quinn himself said, branding the night’s council “the Brandon Oaks Four” because all four live in the neighborhood.
“At this week’s council meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Goodall made a motion to exclude me from participating and to prevent my asking questions of candidates seeking appointment to the vacant council seat,” Quinn wrote in a letter that appeared in the July 29 issue of Union County Weekly. “They threatened to have me forcibly removed if I ‘defied the will of the Council.’ The Brandon Oaks Four voted unanimously for it.”
Quinn claimed the council also excluded him by ordering the town staff to not speak with him.
A matter of record
Another questionable move in some opinions was the order to turn off the microphones recording the minutes of the July 26 meeting and to remove the exchange between the mayor and the candidates from those minutes. Recordings of council meetings are available at www.indiantrail.org/livemedia.php.
“If they directed that it not be reflected in the minutes of the meeting, they can probably do that,” Bluestein, the School of Government dean, said of the council’s actions. “The minutes are a summary of the meeting and the council has wide discretion in deciding how detailed they need to be. If there is a tape recording of the meeting which serves as a record of it, they probably do not have authority to alter it, although the records retention rules allow them to destroy it once the official minutes are approved.”
As for Stanton’s appointment?
“Even if the mayor had a right to speak and was denied it, the vote appears to have been lawfully taken,” Bluestein said, “and there is no requirement for any findings or other specific procedure they’re required to follow other than a majority voting for the person to fill the vacancy.”
During the meeting, Quinn protested the council’s vote to exclude him, which was proposed by Allen and then unanimously adopted by the council.
“I have no intention to abide by an illegal, unethical and unconstitutional ruling,” Quinn said. “I will participate in the process as I have been elected to do.”
Later, Quinn read excerpts from a recent Associated Press article about the embattled mayor of Quartzite, Ariz. The town council of Quartzite had declared a state of emergency, removed its mayor and begun holding closed meetings in response to a YouTube video of its mayor protesting as a citizen was removed during public comments at one of its town council meetings.
Sheriff calls for common sense
After council finished questioning a candidate, Quinn continued his attempt to ask questions. He was shut down by Goodall several times, with Allen calling for Goodall to order security to remove the mayor.
“This is a town council form of government,” Goodall told Quinn several times.
“Any member of the board or the public can be removed if they are being disruptive of the meeting,” Bluestein said. “I think it takes more than just interruption, but if it is such that the council can’t conduct its business, I believe they would have authority to remove him.”
Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey agreed, saying common sense plays a part in determining if someone needs to be removed.
“We’re there to do our jobs in law enforcement, but we want to be sure it’s something we have the authority to do,” Cathey said. “If we need to take action, we will.”
“We don’t have the authority to remove the mayor from a public meeting unless he is disrupting the meeting, then we might (remove him),” Cathey said. “We have to use common sense when we try to restrict the speech of public officials who are speaking on behalf of the people who elected them. Laws were made by men to be tempered with common sense.”