The North Carolina State Lottery Commission's planned trip to Tennessee appears to violate open meetings laws, some lawyers argue, although the commission chairman disagrees.
At least five commissioners are going to Nashville, Tenn., on Friday to tour the Tennessee Lottery headquarters. They canceled their regularly scheduled meeting in Raleigh, but didn't send out notices of the Tennessee event nor post a notice in its regular meeting place in the Department of Administration building in Raleigh, as the law requires.
Commission chairman Charles Sanders said state lawyers have told him that the Tennessee tour doesn't fit the definition of an open meeting. The members do not plan to make any decisions or perform other business, he said. Gov. Mike Easley's press office Wednesday classified the tour as an informal educational trip.
"We've been totally transparent with this, and it seems like we're arguing over a technicality," Sanders said.
Lawyers familiar with the open-meetings law said the trip should have been advertised.
"They're going on a trip to gather information that will influence their decision-making. You don't get much more of a public purpose than that," said Amanda Martin, a lawyer for the North Carolina Press Association. "I don't have any question that qualifies as a public meeting."
David Lawrence, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Government, agreed, saying that even if the commissioners don't deliberate they will be taking up public business.
Tennessee lottery director Rebecca Paul met with North Carolina lottery commissioners in October and invited the group to tour her operations.
"None of us have ever seen a lottery in operation," commissioner Linda Carlisle said. "We want to have a chance to see it up close and personal."