Charlotte Mayor Defends Closed-Door Meeting On 2020 RNC Contract

Aug 14, 2019

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles is defending City Council’s closed-door session last month during which the city’s contract to host the 2020 Republican National Convention was discussed.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles is seen at a City Council meeting in April.
Credit DAVID BORAKS / WFAE

Some public information advocates have argued the meeting should have been open to the public, but speaking on WFAE’s "Charlotte Talks" on Wednesday, Lyles said the city attorney said council was within its rights to hold the discussion behind closed doors.

"I'm going to say again - I’m not a lawyer," Lyles said. "But our attorney said that we could discuss that document in detail, and go - he had the opportunity to walk through it. But at the end of that session, I think all of us agreed, this was good information. And we distributed and posted online some details. And in fact, the contract in its entirety I believe is now posted on our website."

Lyles says the council took a straw vote in closed session on whether to ask the city attorney to start the process of changing how the city awards RNC-related contracts. The move did not get the majority support of councilmembers, so no further action was taken.

State law says an elected body can meet in closed session “to consult with an attorney employed or retained by the public body in order to preserve the attorney-client privilege between the attorney and the public body, which privilege is hereby acknowledged,” WFAE's Steve Harrison previously reported.

Two experts in the state’s open meetings law — Frayda Bluestein of the UNC School of Government and N.C. Press Association attorney Amanda Martin — said that provision allows council to discuss the ramifications of breaking the contract in private.

However, the open meetings law continues: “General policy matters may not be discussed in a closed session and nothing herein shall be construed to permit a public body to close a meeting that otherwise would be open merely because an attorney employed or retained by the public body is a participant.”

Both Bluestein and Martin said that the discussion about changing how the city awards convention-related contracts should have been in public. That would have been a “general policy matter.”

City Council met about the possibility of pulling out of the RNC contract after President Trump held a rally in Greenville during which members of the crowd began chanting, "Send her back" in reference to Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Omar, a Democrat, was born in Somalia but is a U.S. citizen.