Columbus – Open Meetings Act
In 2017, the Mississippi Justice Institute won a landmark victory in the Mississippi Supreme Court in a fight to make Columbus city government—and every other arm of government in Mississippi—more open and transparent.
The case arose in 2014, when the mayor of the town of Columbus hid debate about economic development projects from public view in violation of Mississippi’s open meetings laws. The open meetings laws in Mississippi require meetings of a quorum of a public body to be open to the public. But the leadership of Columbus scheduled multiple closed-door meetings with small groups of council members just to avoid creating a quorum—and to therefore avoid the requirements of the open meetings laws. The mayor and councilmen discussed important economic development projects at their unannounced, hidden meetings. A newspaper reporter eventually discovered that the illegal meetings had taken place and brought a complaint to the Mississippi Ethics Commission.
The Commission ruled that the mayor and council violated Mississippi’s Open Meetings Act. Columbus appealed the Ethics Commission’s ruling, and the case ultimately landed at the Mississippi Supreme Court. There, for the first time in its history, the Court heard arguments about whether government officials could meet in small groups in an attempt to avoid the requirements of the Open Meetings Act. The Mississippi Supreme Court held, unanimously, in favor of the reporter and his lawyers at the Mississippi Justice Institute. The ruling created an important precedent that every body of government, both state and local, in Mississippi must follow to this day.
To learn more, read the filings and briefs below.