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Tuesday, April 5, 2011 - 12:00pm

Savannah Council Broke Meeting Laws

The state Attorney General's office says, Savannah City Council broke open meeting laws when it met in secret.

Attorney General Sam Olens wants to change those laws to give elected officials more leeway in hiring decisions.

The office says, council members broke the law three times, all in meetings for hiring a new city manager.

In one meeting, council members divided themselves up into teams to interview candidates.

Alderman Tony Thomas says, the intent was to skirt the law requiring public notice of meetings whenever a council majority is present.

"I questioned why we were meeting in units of three, why we divided into teams," Thomas says. "Anything five or more triggers a requirement to notify the media of a meeting."

In the end, after a bitter public debate, council members hired Rochelle Small-Toney as the city manager.

Olens wants to change the law to let officials conduct some interviews privately.

His proposal would stiffen public notice requirements and would boost fines for violators.

"It puts in plain English so that the average lay person can understand the process," Olens says. "It takes care of many of the abuses that our office regularly sees."

The office sent the Savannah council a warning letter, but did not mention fines or litigation unless it happens again.

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