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Unicoi group looks to change Sunshine Law

November 29th, 2011 8:49 am by Brad Hicks

Unicoi group looks to change Sunshine Law

ERWIN — The Unicoi County Commission is looking to follow the lead of Sullivan County officials by advocating changes to the state’s Sunshine Law that would allow commissioners to discuss county business in private.
At Monday’s regular meeting, commissioners present unanimously voted to have County Attorney Doug Shults draw up a resolution to support changes to the law. Shults was asked to have the resolution ready for the commission’s consideration at a special called meeting scheduled for Dec. 19 at 4:30 p.m.
Under the state’s Sunshine Law, governmental entities are required to give prior public notice of meetings in which two or more members of an entity that makes recommendations or decisions gather.
Last week, Sullivan County Commissioner Bruce Kilgore introduced a resolution asking the Sullivan County Commission to lend its support to changing this requirement.
Unicoi County Commissioner Doug Bowman first presented the proposal at a planning session held prior to Monday’s regular county commission meeting and the commission’s agenda was later waived to allow a vote on the matter. Bowman said he feels that discussion of some items — such as discussion of prospective industries that are looking to locate to the county and possible property purchases for county use — may better serve the county if discussed behind closed doors.
“To me, this makes good sense,” Bowman said.
Bowman said he would like to see Unicoi County’s resolution modeled after the one to be used by Sullivan County.
In the planning session held prior to the commission’s regular meeting, commissioners also received an update on the situation involving Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris from Shults.
Shults said he spoke with District Attorney General Tony Clark late last week to see if Clark or the state Attorney General intended to file a removal proceeding against Harris.
“(Clark) said since our last meeting, he’s had one contact with somebody with the state Attorney General’s office, but he’s not received any kind of answer from them,” Shults said.
On Oct. 14, a Unicoi County grand jury returned 10 true bills charging Harris with 10 felonies, including six counts of official misconduct and one count each of tampering with evidence, criminal simulation, theft over $1,000 and attempted aggravated assault.
The county commission was slated to discuss the fate of Harris’ position at its meeting last month. However, these talks were put on hold until county officials could get word on how the state Attorney General’s office planned to proceed in the matter.
In other business, the commission:
— Approved a debt management policy.
— Approved a quit claim deed on property along Rice Creek Road.
The NET News Service contributed to this report.

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