Before the City Council work session on Tuesday, Feb. 16, the majority of the City Council held a meeting to discuss the Airport Authority Overlay District, commonly called the noise cone, which was not in compliance the North Carolina open meetings law.
The official virtual work session meeting began at 3:30 p.m., and before the virtual meetings begin there is usually some chatting among councilmembers as they sign on, which is to be expected.
However, on Tuesday, before the meeting started, Mayor Nancy Vaughan brought up an item on the agenda for the 5:30 p.m. virtual meeting – the Airport Overlay District Amendment. Vaughan said she wanted to have the item continued and explained why. Vaughan said that she had talked with Planning Department Director Sue Schwartz and Tom Terrell, an attorney with Fox Rothschild representing the airport in this matter.
Vaughan said, “Staff thought they were in agreement with the airport and obviously they weren’t because we did get a revision from Tom Terrell’s office.”
Vaughan said she planned to ask that the item be postponed until the City Council could hold a work session on it.
Councilmember Tammi Thurm asked if it was time sensitive.
Vaughan said that it didn’t appear to be, but they wanted it to be done quickly.
Councilmember Goldie Wells asked if they had talked to all councilmembers and said that she and Councilmember Sharon Hightower had attended the meeting together about the noise cone.
Thurm said that she and Councilmember Nancy Hoffmann also were briefed on it together.
Hoffmann said that the meeting had been three or four months ago.
Wells said, “I thought everything was okay.”
Vaughan said, “The resolution that we have from staff differs from the one we got from the [airport] authority.”
No vote was taken, but the seven councilmembers present seemed to reach consensus on continuing the item after their questions were answered. At work sessions, City Council business is usually handled by consensus rather than a vote.
This was City Council business and happens to be City Council business that will have a significant impact on development of the airport area and the airport itself, which the City Council considers a major economic development driver for the area.
By law, council business can only be discussed by a majority of the City Council at a properly noticed public meeting. Additionally, two councilmembers, Justin Outling and Michelle Kennedy, had not yet joined the virtual meeting so were not present and couldn’t take part in the discussion or the decision.
The Tuesday work session had one agenda item and lasted less than an hour. There was plenty of time for this discussion to take place after the one agenda item had been handled.
The virtual meeting was being televised, so the discussion was open to the public, except those interested in the topic would have no reason to think the discussion would take place with only seven councilmembers present before the officially noticed time of the meeting.
The comments by Wells, Thurm and Hoffmann also revealed that the City Council has gone back to doing business in small group meetings, which are meetings held with less than a majority of the City Council present so the North Carolina open meetings law doesn’t apply. Previous City Councils had discontinued small group meetings in an effort to be more transparent.