2007-03-14 / Opinion

Up The Creek Without A Paddle

The public has a right to know
by Terry Toole

When is the last time you went to a city council, county commission or board of education meeting?

In spite of how some of our elected or appointed officials act, these are meetings that should interest every citizen of our city and county.

I was looking at an ad in one of my Georgia Press newspaper directories. The ad said, "Don't be blinded by the actions of your government. Get involved. Attend meetings and ask questions."

That last statement made me think of the last meeting that I, and all that could be packed into the small area, attended to see what our Miller County Board of Education was going to do about our school leaders. Other than a board member, no citizen was allowed to say anything or ask any questions. The chairman was asked if there would be public participation. He said, "No."

I can understand how that might happen in some countries that have dictators and regimes that kill their citizens if they question what they do, not the U.S.A., or particularly this part of the U.S.A.

I understand that the board of education will appoint a member for the vacated seat that made our BOE a four person board, which has tied several times on motions. The law requires a five person board so that the citizens in each of five districts of this county will be represented.

There have been a number of good citizens from the third district to let it be known that they would be willing to serve.

Under Miller County law, if a BOE member vacates an office, the other board members must "appoint" a member to serve the rest of the term. I'm not sure how this law was enacted, but most of us don't agree that four people should "appoint" someone where the rest must be elected.

Someone asked why these meeting have been changed from our Miller County Courthouse courtroom to areas too small to have citizen participation. Could it be that citizen participation is not wanted by those elected?

Some of it is very obvious that the Miller County Board of Commissioners do not want citizens in their meetings when they change the time and place so that no working citizen can attend the meetings.

It is not only embarrassing, it is a slap in the face of most citizens who come to "public" meetings to find that they are not welcome since the public officers call for "executive meetings." That sounds better than "closed" meetings, which closes the public out of any discussion of knowledge of what is going on with their business. Some meetings are closed for hours, hoping the public will leave.

As a public official for over 30 years, I cannot remember a time when those who elected me were ever shut out by closing a meeting. As a past chairman, the public was always allowed a say in how their government was run. I thought that was the least that could be done since the citizens pay the bills.

I always figured that the only time a meeting is closed to the public was when those voting to close it had something to hide.

When any of these positions or offices, elected, appointed or hired, be they a judge, a clerk, a secretary, a sheriff, a police officer, any board member or one of the hired personnel of this city, county, state or nation thinks that he or she owns the office, we citizens should be looking to make a change.

A good, efficiently run office by any officer or employee or department should be complimented. When those elected, appointed or hired go against the will of those who placed them there, changes are going to take place.

We have some good things going on in our area. Get involved. Go to the meetings. Let your representatives, officers and employees know what you want from them. Their actions will be in direct correlation to your taxes that will pay for their actions. Even worse their actions or inactions could affect the education of our children for years to come, as well as your tax burdens.

Do you know what is going on in your local government? It affects us all.

The public has a right to know, even in Colquitt and Miller County.

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