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An Informed Public Is a Happy Public

Are taxpaying citizens being fully informed?

It is my observation that an informed public is a happy public. Albeit there are times we receive information that does not make us happy, for example word that taxes are to be raised.

The quick way to fuel unhappiness on the part of the tax-paying public is to give the impression of secret deals or that decisions affecting the taxpayers are being made out of public view. In Georgia, we have a state law known as the Open Meetings Act which requires all government meetings, including committees and work sessions, to be open and accessible to the public.

Since the general public cannot attend every government meeting, keeping the media in the loop regarding when such meetings are held is vital. In conversations I have across our state, often the issue of trust in government leaders is a topic. Most often, people ask questions related to government decisions where there is an impression of trickery or corruption on the part of the elected official. This impression can be cleared with a more transparent process of government discussions and decisions being made in the full daylight of public awareness.

With video cameras and other recording devices, public meetings can be easily recorded and shared with others. This technology is apparently making some people in elective office somewhat nervous to think that in every work session and in every gathering of publicly elected officials, there is the possibility of their actions being broadcast. Remember the television program with the tag line, “Smile, you are on candid camera.” That show was amusing and the public laughed at the antics of unsuspecting people being caught on camera reacting to certain sets of circumstances.

It is different and no laughing matter when politicians seek to find ways to avoid having their opinions known on matters affecting the lifestyle of the public they are elected to serve.

A has caused questions to be raised as to how the meeting was posted for the public and press to know about the meeting. City Administrator Jim Osborne and Mayor Wilbanks have said they followed the Open Meetings Act by posting notice in the legal organ classified section and having the meeting notice on the bulletin board at City Hall.

This reality notwithstanding, there was no posting of the information on the city website until after the meeting, and no mention of this meeting was sent to any other media sources, not even the newsroom of the legal media organ, the Gwinnett Daily Post.

Was this an oversight? Was it just overlooked with all the other daily business of the City of Dacula’s staff? A notice about bus service made it on the web site, but not the notice of a meeting where tax increases would be discussed. From where I stand, that raises more questions than answers about keeping the public informed.

North Georgia Weather June 28, 2011 at 09:30 AM
Underhanded politicians conduct business this way. And I can't imagine any politician in their right mind that would even consider tax increases right now. Good catch Ray.
Ray Newman June 28, 2011 at 10:41 AM
As more about this incident comes to light the more questions arise. Informing the taxpayers should be top on the list of things to do before a meeting is held where tax increases are discussed.
Ex-customer June 28, 2011 at 11:44 AM
The American standard to being a politician is to be shady , crooked , corrupt. Were in gwinnett county one of the most crooked county in the state . Did you expect anything different to happen ?
Mary K. June 28, 2011 at 11:52 AM
Bringing this to our attention is the first step. Thank you Ray. I hope that there will be further investigation into this "oversight". I'm sure people will be looking much more carefully at the council's actions from now on.
Patrick T. Malone June 28, 2011 at 11:54 AM
Ray, your column raises an interesting point. Government has a responsibility to inform its citizens but citizens have a responsibility to be informed. It would seem that Dacula complied with it's responsibility under the Open Records Act. If you have a hornet nest you probably don't want to poke it with a stick while you discuss the situation. Same with preliminary financial discussions that involve raising revenue or cutting expenses. The mayor and city council would be committing political suicide if they pass a tax increase or eliminate services without a full public hearing.
Kristi Reed (Editor) June 28, 2011 at 11:58 AM
Hi Mary, You can read more about what happened here: http://dacula.patch.com/articles/dacula-city-council-considering-millage-rate-increase and here: http://dacula.patch.com/articles/not-so-public-tax-rate-increase-talks-missing-monkey-and-trash-plan-ruling
Jimmy Orr June 28, 2011 at 01:53 PM
Ray, you are exactly right. Our elected officials have a responsibility to keep us duly informed. Patrick, you are exactly right. Since the power of government is vested in "We the people," we have a responsiblity to keep ourselves duly informed. Both of you have given me the framework for an opinion to write about in "The way I see it" in Dacula Patch Friday, July 15th. I plan to quote from both of you. Speak now or forever hold your peace. Patrick, about the only thing you might disagree with me on is if I tell folks that the reason you moved to Union County was to get as far away from me as you could without leaving Georgia. :-) DaculaWeather, this one is for you. If I am ever exiled to the island of Patmos, I want three items to accompany me. #1. My King James Bible. #2. My dictionary. #3. Lots of writing paper. O.K., DaculaWeather, here goes. I pulled out my Mr. Webster's book and looked up the word "politician." One of the definitions, according to Mr. Webster, is defined as follows: "a seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles." As Matlock would say, I rest my case.
Ray Newman June 28, 2011 at 03:23 PM
Patrick, while it is possible to comply with the letter of the law, there is an intent of the law. When a government notifies a classified section of a newpaper and does not notify the news room, one can say they complied with the letter of the law, I question if they carried through with the intent of the law, and that is to inform the people. Taxpayers are responsible to be aware, but it is hard to keep up when called meetings are set by the elective officials and they have a notice in the classified section of the paper.
Ray Newman June 28, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Jimmy, you always have permission to quote from my column anytime. I look foward to reading your column every Friday. I believe, as you do that all the business of the government is the business of the people and needs to be conducted in full sunlight.
Patrick T. Malone June 28, 2011 at 05:21 PM
Jimmy - quote away. Jimmy and Ray, I'd invite both you to join me up here in Union County but as John Wayne used to say, "this county isn't big enough for all three of us"
Jimmy Orr June 29, 2011 at 12:38 PM
Aw shucks, Patrick. Just think what a "great" team you, Ray, and I would make. With a Board of Commissioners of only one in Union County, maybe the three of us could get elected and increase the size of the board to four. Just think, we would have a 3 to 1 majority since we all think alike. Just think of the great things we could do for the county. Do you need a new trash plan up there? What about expanding the airport and bringing in commercial airline service? What about light rail in beautiful downtown Blairsville? What about a new baseball stadium? That's it! Y'all need a new baseball stadium up there. Just hang in there. We'll be up as quick as we can settle our affairs down here. One thing though, you'll have to find Ray a Southern Baptist church that needs a preacher. :-)

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