MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - It was a food fight. Not the funny kind you see in the movies, but a very serious one between the Memphis City Council and ABC24'S 'Bulldog' Mike Matthews.
Mike was told we couldn't get video of the lunch council members were eating, which is paid for by you the taxpayer. One city councilman even threatened us, saying if we showed you their free lunch ABC24 would be discredited.
What makes this so silly is that we're talking about food. They not only didn't want us to shoot pictures of the food, they also considered what happened a violation of security.
Then they met behind closed doors, which according to Tennessee's open meetings law, is illegal.
There was serious discussion going on. Whenever there's a chance that your property taxes on a $200,000 house would increase by more than $230, that's serious.
Council members also heard the city is kicking around the idea of shutting down five libraries and the Whitehaven golf course.
"Anytime you close institutions where children and families can learn it ought to be a concern," said Councilman Harold Collins. "Again, that's the Mayor's proposal. The council has an opportunity to review that."
Libraries are serious. Free lunch is a luxury. Four council members pay for their lunch. The other nine chow down on food paid for by the taxpayer. The council has voted to cut its food and travel budget, but not much.
Councilman Jim Strickland said, "We cut food, but not as much as we needed to. We cut travel, not as much as we needed." Strickland estimated the year's food budget was cut down to $8,000, down from around $15,000 a couple of years ago, he said.
We decided to show you what your tax dollars provide for council members at every meeting. But you're not only paying for city council's food, there was a print reporter eating, and then the Chief of Security for the council, a Memphis police officer, stepped in.
"You're not allowed to be back here."
After that, every member of the council was called into an office where at first we were told they were having a birthday party for a staff member. The doors were closed, and we were kept out.
The law says if two or more people from the same elected body get together, that's a meeting. Reporters must be allowed in so we can report on what they say.
But in this case, the city council attorney said to look at what is defined as a meeting. The law says, nothing in this section shall be construed as to require a chance meeting of two or more members of a public body to be considered a meeting.
This meeting about security, we're told, was a chance meeting.
City Council Attorney Alan Wade told me to just report the law. Then, he said, you can put any spin on the story you want.
No spinning here, just the truth.
So after a day of being lied to, banned from an illegal meeting and ordered not to show you what I just did, council members thought they could put this Bulldog on a leash.
Well folks, this Bulldog bites.