Sunday, September 09, 2007


Back when Harold Bost, Greg Dunn, Glen Gosa, Linda Wells and Herb Frady comprised the County Commission, they goofed. One night in an executive session they were discussing a legally permissible issue and the conversation drifted into policy. They were behind closed doors. The county’s attorney, Bill McNally was not with them that night.

Someone realized they had strayed into questionable legal territory as defined under the Georgia Open Meetings Act and mentioned it. They stopped talking and got back onto the straight and narrow.

Now chances are, no one would have ever known they tiptoed accidentally over the line. If attorney Bill McNally had been there, it wouldn’t have happened.

What’d these guys do? The next day Commissioner Greg Dunn called each one of them and discussed the matter with them saying he felt they needed to be open about it. Once he had a consensus he drafted a press release and went to the press and the group turned themselves in. The group also agreed they would never meet in executive session again without an attorney present just to make sure they’d never stray, even accidentally.

Who’d have ever known if they hadn’t said anything? The easy thing to do would have been to keep mum. Now, to this day, some continue to accuse them of wrongdoing. Not something they deny, nor can they ‘cause they pointed the finger at themselves.

In my mind, that is admirable. I know there are some who would say why bother, why throw yourselves to the wolves? I think it says something about character and integrity.

Now contrast that with what our current Board of Commissioners did and has attempted to do in a vaguely similar situation (well, they both involve executive sessions…).

First, they ditch the current attorney and go attorney-less. They continue to meet, but do so without any legal counsel. That means they can’t talk about legal matters behind closed doors --- per Georgia state law.

One night they find they need to talk about a legal matter. Commissioner Pfeifer questions the feasibility of doing so, asking if they can without an attorney. The correct response would be something along the lines of “no, we can’t, let’s hire an interim attorney ASAP so we don’t break the law.”

But no, Commissioner Maxwell, who said he wanted to discuss the legal matter, scoffs. He ridicules the idea that they shouldn’t discuss the legal matter.

The entire group is sitting around the boardroom table and hears the exchange. They all make the decision to go ahead and talk about what they THINK is a legal matter (whether it really was or not) behind closed doors, knowing they are breaking, or potentially breaking, the law.

It says a lot about a person’s integrity and character when faced with an issue like this one. There are choices that have to be made. This Board made the wrong choice to my way of thinking, no matter how they rationalized it then or later.

After the meeting, they’re all still thinking they’ve discussed a legal matter and Commission Chairman Smith signs a legal affidavit (which he does after every executive meeting) certifying they talked about a legal matter.

Skip forward. Commissioner Pfeifer asks for an opinion ‘cause he’s still not sure whether what they did was right. The Georgia Attorney General says yes, they broke the law, but he’s not going to do anything about it. Yeah, he has bigger fish to fry and probably doesn’t want to get wrapped up into what could become a real political hot potato.

Pfeifer shares the information with the rest of the Board.

Now, chances are you and I would own up and say “oops, I wasn’t sure and I made the wrong choice, please forgive me” if we let it get that far. (Yeah, I know, you’d probably remember what happened to the past Board who turned themselves in and still have some heckling them about it… But most of us would come clean anyway, or at least I’d like to think the rest of you would!).

Does this group of Commissioners do that? Nope. Maxwell spins an elaborate tale that has him in a different room, pushing away from a microphone that doesn’t exist, going down a ramp that isn’t there and making statements he clearly didn’t make (video doesn’t lie as a friend of mine said). He and the rest of the Board change history, re-doing legal affidavits (can they legally do that???) and meeting minutes to try and make their breaking of the law vanish…

Let me guess what’s going to come next… there will be some statement that says they got the dates mixed up, or maybe a more elaborate spinning of facts of some sort. Maybe they’ll try to say they were thinking about a DIFFERENT meeting… except that’s the only meeting I’ve been able to find where a Commissioner called them on the fact they were trying to go into Executive Session to discuss a legal matter without an attorney. And, even if the same thing did happen twice, that only makes it twice as bad. That spin won’t make the August 1st meeting go away…

Here’s another one that works for a lot of politicians when they’re trying to get out of deep doo-doo… they attack the messenger, attack the ones who have a problem with the fact they didn’t own up and/or the ones who have a problem with the fact they broke the law. They’ll say it’s political or some other nonsense. Watch them, they’ll probably really go after Commissioner Pfeifer for questioning the issue and for wanting to do the right thing in the first place. Or they’ll come after yours truly (after all, if I weren’t there video taping the meetings then there wouldn’t be a record of things…).

Quite truthfully, if the day after the meeting they had admitted they goofed I’d have given ‘em a pass and I think most people would have done the same. Even if, when confronted with a ruling by the Attorney General that said they broke the law they’d admitted they goofed and asked forgiveness, I wouldn’t necessarily have liked it, but I’d probably have given them a pass.

But they didn’t. They tried to cover up what they’d done. They colluded to try and cover their backsides. People of character and integrity work well in the light. Some of these guys are operating with the lights dimmed and sometimes completely darkened.

Contrast the actions of the current Board with the past Board in some remotely similar circumstances. Night and day. Darkness and light.

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