Harris v. City of Fort Smith
Arkansas Supreme Court
197 S.W.3d 461 (2004)
The deputy city administrator of the city of Fort Smith, Arkansas (the city) (defendant) discovered a real estate auction that he believed could benefit the city. The deputy city administrator then drafted a memorandum to the city administrator outlining his recommendations regarding the auction. The deputy city administrator also noted that if the city followed its standard process and authorized a bid at a public meeting, the city would not be competitive in acquiring the property. To address this concern, the city administrator held one-on-one meetings with members of the city council to gain each city council member’s individual approval of the bid and the bid amounts. Arkansas’s open-meetings law required that all meetings of a public body, formal and informal, had to be open to the public and did not contain an exception for the acquisition of real estate by a public body. Prior to submitting a bid at auction, the city administrator wrote a memo to the mayor outlining the terms of the auction and the city’s maximum exposure. The city was ultimately the successful bidder at the auction. Shortly thereafter, the city held a special meeting to formally approve the bid and purchase. David Harris (plaintiff) attended the special meeting and filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that it had violated Arkansas’s open-meetings law. At trial, the city administrator provided an affidavit attesting to the fact that he had held one-on-one meetings with individual members of the city council and that all of his conversations had been held with the understanding that the ultimate transaction had to be approved by the city council in open session. The circuit court held that the city’s one-on-one meetings did not violate Arkansas’s open-meetings law. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s determination, and the city appealed.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Hannah, J.)
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