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Lee County resident seeks open meetings injunction against commissioners 

At a town hall-style meeting of the Lee County commissioners last month, residents were required to give their names to a security guard before being allowed onto the property. The meeting was in a private, gated-community. One of the residents, Joseph Calendine, who was initially turned away by the security guards before giving his name filed a lawsuit Friday against the commissioners. He's asking the court for an injunction requiring the commissioners to comply with the North Carolina Open Meetings Law. 

In March, the Lee County Commissioners had a town hall-style meeting in the private, gated Carolina Trace community. Prior to the meeting the commissioners published a public notice of the meeting that stated it would only be open to residents of Carolina Trace.

After the Sanford Herald inquired about the legality of a meeting open only to Carolina Trace residents, the commissioners published a revised public notice stating the meeting would be open to the public and that anyone who had difficulty gaining entrance should contact Lloyd Jennings. The notice did not provide contact information for Jennings. 

The commissioners attorney subsequently provided the board with a letter outlining his concerns that having the meeting in a private, gated community raised concerns about complying with the open meetings law. He suggested the commissioners have a deputy sheriff present at the guardhouse to facilitate access for residents and informed the board that requiring people to pre-register to attend the meeting would not be legal. 

On the night of the meeting, no deputy was present and several county residents were denied admission when they did not provide their identities to the guard. One of the people initially turned away was County Commissioner Amy Dalrymple. People who relented and provided their names to the guards were eventually allowed onto the property. 

Joseph Calendine, who was initially turned away, filed a lawsuit Friday seeking injuctive relief against the county commissioners. His complaint also asks that the commissioners be held personally liable for attorneys fees because they were previously warned about potential problems with holding the meeting at Carolina Trace. The Open Meetings Law allows elected officials to be held personally liable for court costs association with violations if they ignored the advice of counsel. 

Read the complaint here

Jonathan Jones,
Staff
4/4/2014 2:30 PM