Judge hears case against Statesboro City Council

By Dal Cannady - bio | email

STATESBORO, GA (WTOC) - A Bulloch County judge will decide whether or not the Statesboro City Council violated open meetings laws when they decided to restructure the police and fire departments away from City Hall at a budget workshop.

Six businessmen suing the city of Statesboro argued in court Tuesday that the council needed an announced session at City Hall to introduce a plan to eliminate the city's police and fire chiefs and restructure the public safety agencies.

Instead, the plaintiffs argued, it was all discussed at an budget workshop away from City Hall. The council later approved the budget in a council meeting, but with no details of the restructuring.

"I went online for agendas, and there were none for those specific dates," stated Earl Dabbs, one of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiff's attorney questioned City Manager Shane Haynes on the stand. Haynes testified the council had traditionally never kept minutes of those workshops as council members hashed out their budget.

"That's a weak excuse I think. I don't think because you've done something wrong forever doesn't give you a reason to continue," Dabbs noted.

The group's attorney also argued the city didn't do what the law requires in announcing those workshops to the public. They stated that a notice of the budget session should have been posted at city hall in advance. And if the council met away from city hall, such as workshop sessions at the Bulloch County Development Authority's retreat cabin, notices should have been posted there, too.

"If we'd posted a notice there in advance, nobody would have seen it so I don't know what that would have accomplished," Mayor Joe Brannen responded outside the Bulloch County Judicial Annex after the testimony Tuesday morning. "There were some things from the city's side that we learned and we'll improve on and make sure those things don't happen again."

The plaintiffs' attorney asked Judge Robbie Turner to rule the city did violate open meetings laws, and force them to hold hearings on the restructuring. Turner said he would reach a ruling by the end of the week. Meanwhile, the council will meet next week. The Labor Day holiday will push their normal Tuesday session to Wednesday at 9 a.m.

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