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Text shows health chair told director not to alert paper of meeting

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By BEN CARLSON

Despite having an attorney general’s opinion that said committee meetings must be conducted in public, the chairman of the Anderson County Board of Health told the department’s director not to notify The Anderson News about a health committee meeting.
The newspaper continues to investigate what appears to be an illegal meeting of a health board finance committee April 18, and has obtained via an open records request several e-mails and a text message between Director Tim Wright and board Chairman Steve Carmichael.
Each contended in a news article two weeks ago that the committee didn’t meet, saying that they found out just before the meeting that it couldn’t.
The committee did meet, albeit briefly, and members received financial documents from Wright along with hearing a presentation by a health nurse, according to sources with knowledge of what happened.
Carmichael and Wright appeared to struggle with whether the committee meetings, formed in March apparently without a vote of the full health board, needed to be conducted in public.
Carmichael appeared at first to want public involvement and on April 10 e-mailed state health official Ron Horseman to see if the public could attend. Horseman said yes.
On April 11, however, Horseman e-mailed Assistant Attorney General Ryan Halloran, saying he had received a question about the need to advertise the meeting and if it is open to the media.
Wright said that question came from him.
At 8:44 a.m. on April 17, the day before the meeting, Halloran provided a previous AG’s opinion to Wright, which plainly states that committee meetings are public meetings and must be conducted as such.
Wright forwarded that to Carmichael, who responded at 9:04 a.m. that he was getting a “clarification.” Carmichael then e-mailed Horseman and wrote, “Ron — What does this mean, please?”
Before getting a response from Horseman, however, Carmichael told Wright not to inform The Anderson News about the meeting despite the paper’s formal request to be notified.
At 12:23 p.m., Wright wrote: “Are we going to notify the newspaper about the meeting tomorrow night?”
Carmichael: “No, it’s a committee meeting not a board meeting.”
Wright: “Sounds good to me.”
About 30 minutes later, Horseman e-mailed Carmichael and clarified that committee meetings are indeed public meetings.
Carmichael said he didn’t see that response until the following day, about 30 minutes before the meeting was to take place.
In a response, Carmichael wrote: “I guess we should not have formed the committee, just shared with folks that McDonald’s has a great $1 menu at breakfast. There’s a group that meets every morning to discuss Health Department business and ways to solve the world’s problems over coffee and sausage biscuits (and probably oatmeal).
“We’ll meet … to dissolve. Of course if someone wants to drink a Pepsi with me at my truck, outside in the open, that would not be a ‘meeting.’ I’d hate for a cold Pepsi to go to waste. (Plus you can’t get pulled over for having Pepsi on your breath.)”
That final sentence did not appear in the original e-mail provided in the open records request. It did appear in a subsequent request made by the paper because the first e-mail didn’t contain a date or time of Carmichael’s response.
E-mails between Wright and Carmichael also seem to contradict a statement made in last week’s paper when Carmichael was asked why he didn’t pose legal questions about the committee to County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis.
Carmichael said he wasn’t aware that Lewis provided that service, but in an April 17 e-mail, Wright informed Carmichael that he was seeking Lewis’ help over questions about tax rates.
Carmichael responded, saying Wright needed to be careful how he asked that question.
“There’s not much ‘confidentiality’ in Anderson County,” Carmichael wrote.
Along with the open records request, The Anderson News has filed a formal complaint over the apparent illegal meeting.
The paper has demanded an admission from the committee, along with copies of all documents distributed, a summary of conversations that took place and a promise that no future illegal meetings will be held.
That complaint had not been answered as of Tuesday morning.