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Ethics panel chief admits to open meetings lapse


By Dave Boucher

Charleston Daily Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s arbiter of government ethics violated the laws it is supposed to enforce twice Thursday.

The state Ethics Commission failed to send the required notice of two Thursday meetings — one of which was devoted entirely to open meetings laws — to the Secretary of State’s office.

Notice of public meetings must be approved and listed online for five business days to be legal, according to state code.

“We screwed up,” Commission Executive Director Joan Parker said Thursday afternoon.

The commission’s Committee on Open Governmental Meetings actually addressed what a public body should do if it violates the Open Meetings Act — even as it violated the act.

In an advisory opinion for the Huntington City Council, the committee said a governing body must give reasonable advance notice of any meeting where any official actions will be taken or discussed.

“Any violation of the Act, even an inadvertent failure to issue an agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting, may generate a legal action requiring rescission of official action taken by the governing body,” the advisory opinion states.

That means any business done at a meeting that violates the act can be invalidated if someone files a petition with the local circuit court.

A member of a public body who “willfully and knowingly” violates the provision is guilty of a misdemeanor and could face a fine of up to $500, the opinion states…

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