Sunday, September 09, 2007

Legal? Personnel? Open Meetings Act? What's the big deal?

I've had a number of conversations with different people about the County Commissioner's violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act (OMA) since posting the video (see the blog I posted the other day if you scroll down).

So far, all who've talked or emailed me have indicated that it's pretty clear when they watch the video that Commissioner Maxwell, and other members of the Board, were in cover-up mode, so they figure it must be pretty serious stuff if they're willing to go that far... And, they can see that nothing that's said on September 5th matches what actually happened on August 1st. Some have even caught the fact that the Commissioners signed off on talking about a legal matter AFTER they met so it doesn't really matter whether Maxwell's version of history somehow happened despite the video showing it didn't.

However, when it comes to understanding what's so bad about violating the OMA, they're not so clear on why it's such a big deal (aside from the fact that it's the law). A friend of mine (a very astute and much-better-spoken person than yours truly) sent the link for the video to some folks along with an explanation. I thought it was SO good that I asked if I could use it... So, here it is:

"The link to the YouTube video below poses a very important question about the conduct of Fayette County's business. For those who are unfamiliar with the Georgia Open Meetings Act, it requires that our commissioners vote on things in meetings that are open to the public, on the record, and any votes must be based upon a published agenda made available to the public ten days in advance of the meeting. The intent of the Act is to make sure laws aren't changed in the dead of night and to prevent secret backroom deals about which the public doesn't get information or an opportunity to voice their opinion.

There are only 3 exceptions to the Open Meetings requirements: 1) real estate matters (this allows the commissioners to discuss potential real estate purchases in private to keep speculators who might hear about the property from buying it and charging the taxpayers ten times the price); 2) personnel matters (hiring, firing, salary negotiations, workers comp claims, disability claims, etc.); and 3) legal matters (just as people get attorney-client privilege, the county commissioners get to keep their legal advice and strategy private). If there is a need to discuss something that fits within those 3 exceptions, the Commissioners may go into a closed-door (executive) session, away from public scrutiny and discuss the matter. After the executive session, they must vote to execute the affidavit (a sworn legal document) that the discussion was only about something in the 3 exceptions and they must publicly report on what action they decided to take.

The reason the alleged "legal matter" Commissioner Maxwell proposed to discuss is a problem, is that the County had no county attorney at the time of that discussion. So, an affidavit to discuss a legal matter is troublesome; they couldn't have been discussing legal strategy or getting attorney-client privileged advice because there was no county attorney to give that privileged advice or strategy.

Now, no doubt, there will be some people who say this is a mere technicality and that the video maker is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill. I can only reply that video doesn't lie. "

Is that clearer than what I've written thus far? Yep, I definitely think so! Just in case the blog has dropped off for some reason, here's a link to the video:

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