published Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Group puts Bradley County commissioner on 'naughty list'

Bradley County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones
Bradley County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones
Photo by Paul Leach /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Bradley County Commissioner Charlotte Peak-Jones made an open government group's "naughty list" just four days before Christmas.

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, wrote a Dec. 21 blog post calling out the "downright naughty" county commissioner for juggling animal control services proposals and, without adequate notice, replacing an agenda item with her own recommendation that the commission then approved.

Fisher wrote that Peak-Jones showed "the sort of lack of care for the public's involvement that we don't like to see."

Peak-Jones doesn't think that the open meetings law was violated in any way.

"They can put me on the naughty list," she said. "I can handle it. Because I know that our local government is the most open government you will find."

The dispute stems from a Dec. 9 meeting of the county commission's ad hoc animal control committee, of which Peak-Jones is chairwoman. The committee voted 4-0 that the county commissioners pick the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County's bid to handle the county's animal control for $80,000, annually, over a $240,000 bid from The Ark of Cleveland, Tenn.

Fisher wrote that the meeting was not properly noticed.

"A public notice for the meeting was put on the county's website, but not placed anywhere else that the public might have seen it in time to make it to the meeting," she wrote. "Furthermore, the notice only contained the time and place. It did not mention that the committee would be deciding on its recommendation between the two proposals."

She also faulted Peak-Jones for pulling the ad hoc committee's recommendation at the full county commission meeting on Dec. 16.

"She pulled the agenda item and substituted her own personal recommendation instead. Which, not surprisingly, was the same as the ad hoc committee's," Fisher wrote.

Peak-Jones did that, Fisher wrote, after Rachel Veazey, a resident who's been active on the issue of animal control, filed a complaint with Tennessee's Office of Open Records Counsel Elisha Hodge, who wrote a letter stating that "it appears a violation of the open meetings act may have occurred."

Peak-Jones said, "My decision to pull the recommendation from the animal ad hoc committee was to ensure that there was no appearance of impropriety."

She said the whole purpose of the ad hoc committee was to weigh the options to select a bidder for animal control, and all of these meetings were open and were "more than inviting of public comment."

Peak-Jones said public notice was made of the full commission's meeting about the animal control bid, it was discussed in public session, and it wouldn't have made sense to redo the ad hoc committee meeting.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...

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