Fairview calls private meeting to vent about mayor

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 04:34 PM

The Fairview Town Council plans a closed session during its July 8 meeting to discuss the mayor’s Facebook page, but such a move might not be legal.

Mayor Elizabeth Long started a Facebook page in January, titling it “Fairview, Union County, N.C.”

Long said she started the page to keep residents informed of the town’s governmental and social news.

“Reminder to all — this facebook page is not just for town government news, but to be a page for all town news, who is sick, any deaths in the community, church activities, Fairview Elementary School news and activities, etc.” Long posted on Feb. 26. “In the past, you used to could go to Black’s Store to find out all the news of our community, but things change and Fairview has changed, so our community news will have to be electronic.”

Most posts were about upcoming topics for the council, N.C. Department of Transportation projects in Fairview and reminders of special meetings. Residents posted news about church events and suggestions for town festivals. But some posts veered into council politics.

Now the Fairview Town Council want to hold a closed session to discuss Long’s page. But a council member’s behavior is not one of the topics that can be discussed in closed session.

“This does not fall under any open meeting laws for closed session,” Long said. “I created the page to inform people of what’s going on in their town.”

N.C. General Statute 143-318.11(c) states that a council cannot consider the performance, character or fitness of another elected official in closed session. All such topics must be talked about during a meeting open to the public. Information about employees are protected and are not released to the public.

But Councilman Arnold Price disagreed. He requested the closed session to address Long’s Facebook page and whether, through it, Long attempts to speak for the whole council.

“This is not about the comments,” Price said. “It’s about it being under the name of the town. When she writes things under that name, it looks like it’s the town saying it.”

The concern is valid, but it is still a violation of the state’s open meeting laws. But Price said it is “an internal problem” with the council “that doesn’t affect the town.”

“Well, this is personal and I don’t think it needs to be out in the public where people can gossip about it,” Price said.

Then he said the council did have problems with Long’s comments, specifically about Town Administrator Ed Humphries.

“She’s made comments about the town secretary and we’re just trying to make sure we’re not going to be fighting a slander suit,” Price said.

Humphries said he has not read Long’s Facebook page and has not threatened to sue the town over comments. Nor was he aware that the closed session was to discuss the mayor’s Facebook page.

But he did question if it is ethical or legal for Long to start a page under the town’s name and not make it clear she runs it.

“Now, that might be a reason to hold the closed session,” Humphries said.