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Update: Judge Rules Full Asheville City Council Retreat Must Be Open To Public

Matt Bush
Blue Ridge Public Radio
The two-day retreat will be held at Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville

UPDATE 9:00 A.M. - The city of Asheville will now live stream most of city council's two-day retreat.  The live stream, which can be viewed here or on the city's YouTube channel, will begin at 3 p.m. Wednesday afternoon and continue through all-day Thursday.  The team-building exercise, which was at the center of a lawsuit brought by five media organizations, will not be live-streamed.  Those wishing to watch it live must do so in-person at the Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville.

UPDATE 3:30 P.M. - A Buncombe County judge has ruled all of Asheville City Council's retreat must be open to the public.  Five media outlets sued over a closed portion of the retreat, which begins tomorrow at Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville.

Superior Court judge Steven Warren ruled a 'team-building' exercise that was initially not open to the public constituted a public meeting.  An agenda for the team-building exercise included portions for 'forming a success compact' and 'creating working agreements', and it will be run by two facilitators paid by the city.  The lawyer for the five media outlets that brought the suit - Mountain Xpress, Asheville Citizen Times, Blue Ridge Public Radio, AVL Watchdog, and Carolina Public Press - argued that constituted an public meeting and not an informal meeting, which the city had claimed.  Informal meetings are not subject to open meetings laws.


Just minutes after Tuesday's ruling, the city announced the cancelation the livestream of the retreat.  Those who wish to watch or cover it must go in-person, or wait for a recording of it to be posted to the city's YouTube channel by 5 p.m. April 2nd.  Social distancing requirements will be in effect for the retreat, and those who attend must wear masks.

Tuesday 1:00 p.m. - Five media outlets filed a lawsuit over a closed portion of Wednesday's Asheville City Council retreat, which is being held at Harrah's Cherokee Center Asheville.

<--break->As part of Wednesday's retreat, there will be a 'team-building' exercise that will last roughly six and a half hours.  It is currently not open to the public.  The organizations that brought the suit - Mountain Xpress, Asheville Citizen-Times, Blue Ridge Public Radio, Carolina Public Press, and AVL Watchdog - claim in their suit the closed portion of the meeting violates open meeting laws in North Carolina.  The suit seeks to have that portion of the meeting open to the public.  

A hearing was held Monday in front of Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Steven Warren, who is expected to issue a ruling ahead of Wednesday's retreat.  Asheville city attorney Brad Branham has argued the team-building exercise is considered an informal gathering, and is therefore not subject to open meetings laws.  The rest of the two-day retreat is open to the public.  An agenda for the the team-building exercise includes portions for 'forming a success compact' and 'creating working agreements.'  There are also two facilitators running that portion of the meeting, which have been paid by the city.  Amanda Martin, the attorney representing the media organizations, believes that shows the meeting is not an informal gathering.

Prior city council retreats have been open fully to the public.  A team-building portion of last year's retreat was canceled because of the pandemic.

Matt Bush joined Blue Ridge Public Radio as news director in August 2016. Excited at the opportunity the build up the news service for both stations as well as help launch BPR News, Matt made the jump to Western North Carolina from Washington D.C. For the 8 years prior to coming to Asheville, he worked at the NPR member station in the nation's capital as a reporter and anchor. Matt primarily covered the state of Maryland, including 6 years of covering the statehouse in Annapolis. Prior to that, he worked at WMAL in Washington and Metro Networks in Pittsburgh, the city he was born and raised in.