Judge rules Asheville council cannot block public from retreat


A team-building exercise among Asheville City Council members is an “official meeting” and not an “informal gathering” under the law, according to a Buncombe County judge’s ruling on Tuesday.

The ruling requires that the public be allowed to observe the event under the state’s open meetings law, but city officials canceled a livestream of the meeting, leaving in-person attendance as the only real-time option for the public and press.

A coalition of media outlets sued the city to allow public viewing of that five-hour portion of the two-day retreat, which will start Wednesday at the city-owned Harrah’s Cherokee Center-Asheville.

After Buncombe County Special Superior Court Judge Steve Warren issued his ruling Tuesday afternoon, Asheville City Attorney Brad Branham’s office released a statement: “Mr. Branham respects the court’s ruling and will abide accordingly. There are no changes to the agenda.”

Branham argued Monday that the team-building exercise was not part of a meeting at all, rather, more akin to an “informal gathering” where public business would not be discussed. 

Amanda Martin, the attorney for Carolina Public Press, Mountain Xpress, the (Asheville) Citizen Times and Blue Ridge Public Radio, said if it were a social event — such as a wedding — she would agree.

“This is clearly not a purely social gathering, nor do we believe that it is in any manner an informal gathering,” Martin said.

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