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County attorney chastises TDC; Tells council proper notice must be given

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By Alice Du Pont

County attorney Deborah Minnis told members of the Gadsden County Tourist Development Council during their regular meeting Monday afternoon that announcing a meeting will be continued does not constitute proper public notice.

Meetings such as the ones conducted by the TDC operate as an arm of the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners and, as such, are bound by the rules and regulations as those that govern all meetings under the state's Sunshine Law, she said.

"Public notice needs to be given and minutes taken and boards are required to conduct meetings in the Sunshine," Minnis said.

She was requested to get an opinion from the attorney general after complaints that TDC meetings were not advertised, which could mean the TDC held meetings out of the Sunshine.

"You cannot simply say another meeting is going to take place even though the press was there. You have to provide reasonable notice to the public," Minnis said.

She added that it is not unusual for bodies such as the TDC to have unintentional violations. The attorney general, she said, takes a board view of the Sunshine Law in those cases. Notices can be advertised in the newspaper or, in some cases, posting the meeting in a place that is frequented by the public.

After discussing the best way to advertise TDC meetings, the vote was to advertise meetings in the Twin City News, a newspaper which serves Chattahoochee and Sneads, with a circulation of approximately 2,200. TDC member Jim Kellum made the motion, he said, based on the cost of only $51.75.  The motion passed unanimously.

In other matters, the TDC:

• Voted to include suggestions from Alana Rich, general manager of the Gadsden County Times and Grace Maloy, executive director of the Gadsden Arts Center, in the strategic plan that is set for a public hearing during the Dec. 1 meeting of the Gadsden County Board of Commissioners.

During the Nov. 3 meeting the plan came under fire from citizens and commissioners after the document contained language that would open the door for a 1 percent tax on restaurants, raise the bed tax charged by hotel and bed and breakfast establishments and lacked inclusion of “tourist-ready” venues and events such as the Gadsden Arts Center, the Leaf Theatre and QuincyFest.

Kellen and Commissioner Sherrie Taylor also objected to language that they said shed negative light on the county. Jeff Debree and Hement Patel, who defended the language, which mentioned "turf wars" in the county and "wasting money" on one day events, said they would remove that verbiage from the plan.

The last opportunity for citizens to question the plan will be during the Dec. 1 meeting. After revisions, the Gadsden County Chamber of Commerce will make copies available to the public.

• Bruce Ballister, representing Riverway South-Apalachicola, requested $5,000 from the TDC to help promote the river with emphasis on ecotourism and natural communities. The plan is to cater to automobile and RV traffic and those who own pleasure crafts that use the rivers.

The TDC put Ballister's request on hold until more information is available.

Send your comments to adupont@gadcotimes.com.