Hancock County

Before the Bay Council voted in controversial firing, they were sent a questionable email

Bay St. Louis Mayor Mike Favre
Bay St. Louis Mayor Mike Favre Sun Herald File

The Bay St. Louis City Council held what was essentially an improper meeting via email to discuss a plan to dissolve the Historic Preservation Commission.

Councilman Larry Smith in his discussion of a proposed motion said "several contractors, as well as private citizens, have seen the HPC as a timely hinderance (sic) to allow their projects moving forward."

The commission is the first to sign off on changes to buildings or other construction in the Historic District, which covers primarily what is known as Old Town.

Smith's complaints were in an attachment to an email that went to four other councilmen — Gene Hoffman, Buddy Zimmerman, Josh DeSalvo and Gary Knoblock — and Mayor Mike Favre.

He said weeks or months sometimes have been added to projects and that caused some projects to fail or move to "another geographic location to build." He named neither the contractors, the citizens nor the projects in question.

Apparently only Favre responded. "May want to also add that all historical ordinances will remain in place," he wrote.

Attorney Leonard VanSlyke of the Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information said discussing city business with a quorum of councilmen, even in an email, was likely a violation of the Open Meetings Act. The act is design to ensure government business is conducted in full view of the people.

The next day at a regular meeting, the council emerged from an executive meeting called, according to the minutes, "to discuss purchase of two properties and pending litigation."

When it emerged, the council voted 4-2 on Smith's motion to remove Ellis Anderson from the HPC. Councilmen Doug Seal and Jeffery Reed voted against that motion.

Lana Noonan of the Hancock County Alliance for Good Government, in a blog post on Slabbed and a letter to the Sun Herald, question whether that executive session was legal.

"The Miss. Open Meetings Act states in section 25-41-5 (3), that an Agenda of items to be acted upon must be prepared and made available to the members of the public body and the public "at the time of the meeting," she wrote.

"An examination of the agenda published for the May 8, meeting for public review and made available before the meeting did not include the dismissal of a commissioner from the Historic Preservation Commission."

City Attorney Heather Smith said "all proper executive session proceedings were followed."

Councilmen told Teri Velardi, before the executive session, they were not going to take action against the HPC. Neither Anderson nor Velardi had any inkling they were about to fire Anderson.

"There is no suit against the HPC that I know of," Anderson said.