Auburn University appeals open meetings ruling

ALABAMA — Auburn University has appealed a state circuitcourt ruling that opened its board of trustees committee meetingsto the public.

The Montgomery Advertiser and a coalition ofother state newspapers, including the university’s Auburn Plainsman,sought to open the committee meetings under Alabama’s SunshineLaw.

Lee County Circuit Judge Robert M. Harper ruled that the boardviolated the law and ordered the trustees to conduct their committeemeetings — those consisting of at least three people – beforethe public. He also told the board to give reasonable notice ofthe time, date and place of the meetings.

In addition to appealing Harper’s Aug. 15 decision, the universityhas asked for clarification on two matters: whether the rulingapplies to any gatherings of three or more trustees and if theboard can vote by secret ballot during open meetings, said DennisBailey, attorney for the newspapers. A hearing on the motion forclarification will be held Sept. 13.

Bailey said the Plainsman has enjoyed open access tothe meetings since the judge’s decision. The board has held dinnersand social gatherings, Bailey said, in which the press was notifiedbut not invited to attend. He was unsure if those gatherings constituteda violation of Harper’s ruling.

Auburn University spokesman Bob Lowry said the board of trusteeshas operated in full compliance with the ruling and will continueto do so as it awaits an Alabama Supreme Court decision. The universityfiled its appeal on Aug. 31.

Phillip Adams, who is representing the university, did notreturn phone calls. Following the circuit court ruling, he issueda statement:

"We want the Alabama courts, with the Alabama SupremeCourt being the final authority, to resolve this issue once andfor all. Only then can all public entities throughout the statemore clearly follow the law."

Bailey said he was confident the supreme court would side withthe newspapers.

"We have the best factual situation I’ve seen in 20 years,"he said. "Records show that 100 percent of the time, theboard adopts the committee’s recommendation. Hundreds of thesematters have been approved and the majority of work was done atthe committee level."

Full text of Harper’s decision is available on The Montgomery Advertiser’s Web site at: archive of The Montgomery Advertiser’s collection of related stories is located at: