The Greensboro City Council did not discuss having an independent investigation of the death of Marcus Deon Smith at the work session on Tuesday, June 1 – or at least not in public.
At the City Council meeting on April 20, City Councilmember Michelle Kennedy stated that she was in favor of an independent investigation of the death of Marcus Smith and made a motion that the City Council hold a work session on that matter in May. Kennedy’s motion passed unanimously. But despite a unanimous vote of the City Council, there was no work session held on the matter in May.
However, “Independent Investigation Discussions” was the second item on the agenda for the June 1 work session that began at 2 p.m.
But the City Council never got to the second item on the agenda at the public portion of that meeting. City Councilmember Yvonne Johnson made a motion to go into closed session to consult with the city attorney and to discuss an unrelated lawsuit.
It is difficult to know exactly what happened in a closed session, but it is clear from statements made after the closed session that having an independent investigation of the death of Marcus Smith was discussed and a decision was reached by the nine-member City Council.
After the closed session Kennedy noted that she had requested the independent investigation and that in closed session the council had received advice from an outside attorney who Kennedy said, “practices exclusively in the area of independent investigations.”
Kennedy said, “The council has decided not to pursue such an investigation at this time.”
After Kennedy spoke, Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “And that comment was really to close the loop on a discussion that we had.”
If Kennedy and Vaughan are to be believed, the City Council listened to advice from an outside attorney and discussed whether or not to have a independent investigation. Kennedy is in favor of it, but the City Council decided against it.
It appears this is the type of closed meeting that is banned by the North Carolina Open Meetings Law NCGS 143-318.11.(a)(3). – “To consult with an attorney employed or retained by the public body in order to preserve the attorney-client privilege between the attorney and the public body, which privilege is hereby acknowledged. General policy matters may not be discussed in a closed session and nothing herein shall be construed to permit a public body to close a meeting that otherwise would be open merely because an attorney employed or retained by the public body is a participant.”
The discussion was planned for a work session, open to the public. It was not scheduled to be held in a closed session, perhaps because there is no exception to the Open Meetings Law to discuss spending tax dollars to contract with someone to do an investigation.
The topic of having an independent investigation of the death of Marcus Smith has been discussed in open meetings and Greensboro City Attorney Chuck Watts has advised the City Council against such an investigation in open meetings.
But the City Council decided in closed session that it did not want to have an independent investigation of the death of Marcus Smith that some people have been demanding for years at open meetings. The City Council, in closed session, according to Kennedy, also decided it did not want to have a broader investigation of the Greensboro Police Department. Kennedy described it as “essentially an agency wide conduct review of the Greensboro Police Department.”
Watts said, “I think we complied with the law.”
Watts noted that there was no discussion of the ongoing litigation where the city is being sued by the parents of Marcus Smith. He said, “It was all about whether or not to do an investigation which is totally separate.”
He said, “If there was going to be an investigation, I think you would have to present that in public.”