DSS board must abide by open meetings law, even if members don’t ‘agree’

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The Brunswick County Board of Social Services either doesn’t know the law or is consciously choosing to ignore it—both of which are unacceptable. 

We expect any community member who serves on a public board to know the North Carolina Open Meetings Law. 

We certainly expect the board’s attorney, Gary Shipman, who is billing the county $275 an hour, to know the open meetings law as well as advise board members of it if they do not know it. 

Unfortunately, as far as Shipman and the DSS board are concerned, it appears neither is the case. 

Board members say they are confident Shipman is advising them within the scope of the law, a point with which we disagree. 

We have challenged the board and Shipman on several matters we believe, and our attorneys believe, are not within the law. 

But rather than comply, Shipman is more interested in arguing with us.

It seems board members are following their attorney’s lead, saying they are satisfied with their attorney’s guidance. 

When we presented Charles Warren, a county commissioner and chair of the DSS board, with our attorney’s opinion the board was not within the law to discuss the hiring of the interim director we believe is a contract employee and not covered by the “personnel” provision of the open meetings law, Warren said they disagreed. 

“Gary totally disagrees with that. I also disagree with that. We disagree,” Warren said. 

As a county commissioner, Warren said he has received training on the North Carolina Open Meetings Law. 

Shipman is playing fast and loose with Brunswick County tax dollars, calling for the Beacon to “spend some money” and sue the board to get them to comply with the law. 

What if we call Shipman’s bluff? 

Unless Shipman plans on defending potential lawsuits pro bono, we suggest he comply with the law rather than challenging a newspaper to sue a public board to get them to comply. 

Do you think this is a wise use of taxpayer dollars? We certainly do not. 

We don’t know what is more egregious here—the fact Shipman thinks we should have to sue the board for it to comply or the fact it’s taxpayer money, not his, it would take to defend a lawsuit. 

What’s more, Shipman is a personal injury attorney. In his own words, most of his experience with public agencies comes from suing them, not advising them. 

If Shipman doesn’t advise the board to follow the law, we suggest the board hire an attorney who will. 

It’s long past time the board get rid of Shipman and hire an attorney with public experience and who knows, and more importantly, voluntarily complies with the North Carolina Open Meetings Law. 

Furthermore, we demand the county intervene in any way it legally can, even if that means cutting off funding until the board complies with the law—another move that’s long overdue.

Haven’t we seen enough waste in Brunswick County? 

Cutting funding to the DSS department would be a crippling move—sadly, many families would be affected. The DSS department has a critical function within the county. 

But commissioners must send DSS board members a message—following the law is the only option.