Local News

Public Meeting in a Private Place Causes Controversy in Orange County

Posted January 23, 2000

— Nearly all government meetings are open to the public, but an Orange County leader has his doubts about one taking place Monday night in Mebane.

Orange County and the city of Mebane have had their squabbles. Mebane is pro-growth; Orange County advocates controlled growth.

A dinner meeting designed to smooth out some of the rough edges in their relationship may have created more friction.

"Some things I grab onto and don't let go. This is one of them," says Orange County Commissioner Steve Halkiotis.

Halkiotis refuses to step foot in a private Mebane residence where his county commission will hold a public meeting with Mebane's city council.

"Well I have a real problem Len, with a public body elected by a group of citizens to be invited to a meeting with another group of public officials in a private residence. I don't think this is appropriate," he says.

The residence is a guest house on Bob Hupman's property. The Mebane councilman says this provides a relaxed setting for a get to know you gathering for the two governments.

"If anyone would like to come they're welcome. If they don't want to come that's good too," says Hupman.

An attorney familiar with North Carolina's open meetings law says the gathering is legal.

"Public bodies are allowed to meet wherever they like provided that they allow the public to attend the meeting," says Mark Prak, a communications attorney.

Prak adds, though, that Halkiotis' desire for a more public place is the preferred approach for an elected official.

"Unless you're meeting at a normal meeting place or at a place that has plenty of public access, there's a question about whether the public will actually be able to attend, either for convenience or for special limitations," he says.

Bob Hupman would not show WRAL how much space his guest house has, but says it has hosted as many as 50 people before.

Steve Halkiotis wonders what will happen if 200 people show up. Hupman says the group will just move to a larger place.


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