In another blow to former Southeastern Economic Development Corp. President Carolyn Y. Smith, a judge today issued a preliminary injunction against the agency barring it from issuing a $100,350 severance check to Smith.
In the wake of a bonus scandal at the agency, local activist Ian Trowbridge filed a lawsuit against SEDC charging that it violated the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, when it approved Smith’s severance payment in a closed session of its board meeting.
The Brown Act forbids a public agency from discussing a severance payment in secret. Smith’s attorney has argued that there was no discussion of the payment amount in the closed session of the meeting, and that the board merely calculated the payment based on a formula contained in Smith’s employment contract.
Today, in granting the injunction, Superior Court Judge Jay Bloom disagreed.
“It is reasonable there was some discussion as to the amount of Smith’s severance,” reads Bloom’s tentative ruling, which was confirmed by the judge in court this afternoon. “Even if it was simple arithmetic based upon the terms of Smith’s employment contract … there must have been some discussion as to the amount. Smith concedes the Board calculated the amount payable to Smith. The number was not magically reached and inserted into the Board’s statement.”
The preliminary injunction comes despite the fact that the SEDC board re-voted on Smith’s severance payment in an open session of its meeting last month. That action was aimed at curing the alleged Brown Act violation, and Smith’s attorney had moved to have Trowbridge’s case dismissed because the open session vote rendered his argument moot. Bloom again disagreed. Here’s more from his judgment:
The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
In this case, the initial meeting and the attempts at curing the procedural defects do not meet the spirit of the law. Therefore, the motion to dismiss is denied.
Trowbridge’s attorney, Cory Briggs, has sought to settle the case with SEDC. If a settlement is not reached, the case will proceed to trial. Briggs was pleased with today’s judgment.
“Ian and I have always believed we were likely to prevail at trial and today the judge took a hard look at our case and agreed with us,” he said.
Smith’s attorney could not be reached for comment.