The Hospital Authority of Valdosta and Lowndes County needs to stop violating the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
The authority, governing South Georgia Medical Center, violated the state’s sunshine law again this week by meeting in an early morning executive session prior to its open public meeting.
State law requires governing bodies to meet in open public session, entertain a motion and a second, then take a public vote prior to going into a closed door meeting.
The authority met in a clandestine, closed door meeting at 7:30 a.m. prior to its advertised public meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The intention of the General Assembly is that the public has a right to know both when and why public officials go behind closed doors.
The legal reasons for executive session are very narrow and the reason for the closed session must be stated publicly before retreating behind closed doors.
Furthermore, the authority has a longstanding practice of going into lengthy executive sessions. In open public meetings it votes to approve recommendations made in executive session, without including those actions on the meeting agenda and without defining what those recommendations include.
This is the exact same violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act the Office of Attorney General chastised the Valdosta Board of Education for last year, resulting in the BOE changing its procedures.
There are a lot of actions by the hospital authority that are never discussed in open public meetings.
That must mean either deliberations are taking place illegally outside of the public purview or that decisions are being made unilaterally without the knowledge and consent of authority members.
In either case, it is wrong, it is a violation of the law and a violation of the public trust.
We have tried to give the hospital authority the benefit of the doubt, assuming members did not know or did not understand the law.
We have tried addressing our concerns with the hospital’s administrator, suggesting he and the authority’s attorney check with the Georgia Office of the Attorney General if they doubted the veracity of the information we have shared with them regarding the Open Meetings Act.
We also have written extensively on this subject on our editorial pages, doing our best to educate both the authority and other governing bodies, without specifically calling them out for violations, hoping they would right the ship.
We acted in good faith.
The authority has not.
At this point, we do not believe authority members, the CEO or the attorney can feign ignorance.
Our community has a strong interest in the future of the hospital.
Our community has a need to know, a moral right to know and a legal right to know the business of the hospital authority.
All the business the governing body does is the people’s business.
We have notified the Office of the Attorney General of the violations.
We want to be clear, we only did so after urging the CEO to address the issues, then writing about Open Meetings Act violations in an educational way to make sure authority members were fully aware of the law.
We are calling on authority members to stop doing the public’s business behind closed doors and to fully inform the public through agenda and complete motions prior to any votes in its meetings. Anytime any vote is taken in any meeting, any one in attendance should be able to completely understand exactly what a “yes” vote or a “no” vote means.
It does not matter what the authority’s lawyer says.
It is a matter of what the law says.