Last Wednesday, Valdostans were painfully reminded about why so many people don’t vote and have little to no confidence in local government. And maybe that is exactly what some in office here actually want, no transparency and no accountability to the people that put them in office?
After pursuing the only compliant process available to Valdostans (according to the city manager), last Wednesday (April 14) our coalition of community organizations witnessed an utterly “unethical” process culminating in what was masqueraded as a “public hearing.”
Prior to that meeting, and along with the mayor actually choosing one of the ethics committee members that would judge his conduct, our coalition was given less than 24 hours notice about the “Ethics Committee” planning meeting that took place prior to last week’s meeting (another supposed “public” meeting). We were also provided with no information about what was discussed in that meeting until we demanded it from the city attorney.
Additionally, we weren’t allowed to ask a single question of the Ethics Committee about the process throughout the process and the Ethics Committee’s “public hearing” on April 14 was scheduled at noon on a workday, limiting who among us could attend, not to mention members of the broader community.
Last Wednesday, it was also clear that we were provided a different version of the code of ethics than was given to the ethics committee that would “evaluate” our complaint (ours had a preamble that our complaint was based on). Beforehand we also had to demand that the city attorney give us information about what would actually take place at said “public hearing” and he provided us minimal information.
We also only learned that we could have legal counsel present at that “hearing” less than three business days prior to it. We were then scolded in that “hearing” by committee member Mr. Shelton for supposedly “waiting till the 11th hour" to get counsel.
And in that “public hearing,” the Ethics Committee immediately went into “executive session” and took no questions or input from the complainants in the matter, not to mention the broader community affected by the mayor’s divisive and inflammatory rhetoric.
Given this utterly unethical and authoritarian process, and the reality that the “ethics” committee did not even address our complaint that an “elected official,” the Mayor of Valdosta, is consistently using his talk radio show to speak as both the mayor and for the City of Valdosta, as he also regularly disparages and divides Valdostans, we are urging City Council members to simply dismiss the decision of that “ethics” committee since the ordinance being used states that “the findings of the Board of Ethics shall be submitted to the Mayor and Council for action.”
These measures, within the legitimate power and responsibility of the City Council, would start a process of restoring some faith in our elected officials and local government. Failing to adopt these requests will simply continue to undermine any faith in voting and local government, but again, maybe that is ultimately the goal of some currently holding public office. It is up to council members to determine which of these two outcomes comes to pass.
B.L. Francis, president, Concerned Clergies of Valdosta; Mark Patrick George, coordinator, Mary Turner Project
NOTE: The date has been corrected since this column was originally posted to reflect when the ethics committee met.