The purpose of the Georgia Open Meetings Act is to protect the public’s right to know by keeping the people’s business out in the open.
County commission, city council and the board of education should go beyond the mere letter of the law and fully commit to government transparency.
Clearly, there are loopholes and technicalities.
Do we want governance by loophole?
The strong public policy of the state of Georgia is openness in government.
Skirting that strong public policy by using loopholes, such as elected members of the same body meeting one-on-one, or paid professional staff meeting directly with individual board members to deliberate public policy, are bad practices and not transparent.
Not breaking the law and being transparent with the people’s business are not the same thing.
Deliberating public business with smaller groups of legislators that are not large enough to constitute a quorum is simply a ruse for hiding public business and an assault on the right to know.
All the business transacted by city, county and school board members is the public business.
Why would anyone want to hide deliberations?
What have they got to hide?
Don’t argue it is simply more efficient – we are not talking about the private sector and the public arena must operate by higher, and better, standards.
We commend the Lowndes County Commission for voting on a Service Delivery Strategy proposal to send the the city — ostensibly to end a years-long standoff — in an open public meeting.
We commend the City of Valdosta for not retreating behind the closed doors of an executive session to consider that proposal.
Still, there are some concerns.
Why did emissaries from the city and county hold private talks to forge the proposal instead of doing it out in the open?
Why are city leaders now discussing the county’s proposal individually instead of having a full, robust conversation out in front of the public?
Why does the county often have extremely short meetings where everyone votes unanimously on most measures? Has the business already been discussed?
The public has a right and need to know not only what decisions our elected bodies reach, but know how those decisions are reached, to hear the arguments, follow the deliberations and consider the veracity of all points made.
After all, it is all the public’s business not the public officials’ business.
Mayor Scott Matheson has a fresh new administration, the opportunity to set a very high bar and be the gold standard for open, transparent government. With his background in radio, it stands to reason he could be that duly elected standard bearer and defender of the First Amendment.
We hope he does not listen to the wrong people, take bad advice and consequently end up simply doing things “the way they have always been done.”
The public deserves better.