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Originally published: 2013-05-21 21:00:20
Last modified: 2013-05-21 21:01:22

Watauga County fulfills public records request

Watauga County commissioners and staff have responded to a public records request from the Watauga Democrat, releasing more than 1,000 emails possibly related to recent conflicts between the county and the town of Boone.

The newspaper staff is now reviewing the messages to determine whether any contain previously undisclosed information about the town-county issues.

The newspaper requested public records May 2 from Watauga County and Boone officials, asking that they furnish any information by May 16.

Specifically, the Watauga Democrat asked for copies of all emails or written communications to or from the Board of Commissioners, County Manager Deron Geouque and county attorney Four Eggers from Nov. 1, 2012, to the present related to:

1) the proposed and adopted amendment to the town of Boone's Unified Development Ordinance regarding multi-family housing;

2) the county's pending sale of the old Watauga High School property to Templeton Properties, or any other reference to the name Templeton;

3) a potential lawsuit against the town of Boone;

4) the proposal and enactment of a change to the distribution of local sales tax revenues.

The paper also requested minutes of open or closed session meetings since Nov. 1, 2012, related to the same topics.

From the town of Boone, the newspaper requested the same information sent to or from Mayor Loretta Clawson, Boone Town Council members, Affordable Housing Task Force members, Town Manager Greg Young and town attorney Sam Furgiuele.

Also requested were minutes of open and closed session Boone Town Council meetings related to a potential lawsuit or sales tax change since Nov. 1, 2012, as well as minutes of the Affordable Housing Task Force since Jan. 1, 2012.

Geouque responded late Friday afternoon that the majority of the request had been completed, which the newspaper retrieved Monday.

Geouque directed the newspaper to Board of Commissioners open meeting minutes available online, but did not release closed session meetings minutes, which he said remain confidential.

Under state law, minutes of a properly conducted closed session meeting "may be withheld from public inspection so long as public inspection would frustrate the purpose of a closed session."

Geouque said the county, "in the spirit of transparency," planned to release the closed session minutes with only the topic of discussion revealed and other information redacted. County staff is still working to compile those items, he said.

"As you will note, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners did not discuss the sales tax reallocation or any potential lawsuit with the town of Boone as part of their closed session," Geouque wrote in an email.

The request to the town of Boone is not yet prepared, Town Clerk Kim Brown said May 15.
"I do not have a time estimate for when it will be ready, as I have received several requests in the past few weeks and am taking them in the order which I received them," Brown said.

-- Anna Oakes contributed to this article.