Georgia, through its open-meetings laws, provides the legal framework for how various government agencies, cities included, must behave in providing citizens with information as to what is being discussed and how decisions are made that affect your tax dollars and the operations of the city.
This can be reviewed at O.C.G.A. 50-14-1, or you can obtain a booklet from the Georgia Attorney General’s Office or through www.gfaf.org. The booklet was given to the mayor and each council member in February.
These laws are centered on “meetings.” The definition of a “meeting” for the purposes of Georgia law depends on two things only: the number of members of the organization who are present, and the topics discussed by those people.
All gatherings where a quorum (three council members in the case of Powder Springs) is present and where any city-related discussion takes place are considered a “meeting” under the Open Meetings Act and are subject to the provision of open-meeting laws.
There is no mention of having a written agenda to be considered a meeting.
There is no mention of whether the meeting is mandatory for members to attend.
There is no mention of whether the gathering is in a formal or informal setting or even where it must be held.
There is also no mention that a vote must be taken to constitute a meeting or to take minutes of these meetings. Again, in Powder Springs, this means that whenever three council members are at the same place and city-related topics are discussed, provisions of the Open Meetings Act must be followed.
1. As any participant in the “” knows, city topics are discussed with anyone present who wishes to ask a question about the city or voice concerns about a city matter.
This constitutes a meeting under the Open Meetings Act whenever three council members are in attendance, and certain things must happen, not the least of which is the taking of minutes to enable anyone to know what information is being given out and what concerns the citizens express. There must be a historical record that can be reviewed by citizens not present at the meeting.
Why wouldn’t the mayor and want all citizens to know what’s going on and to know information and facts about the city?
Nobody wants the “Breakfast with the Mayor and Council” to be stopped, but we should all be able to know what topics are discussed, what concerns are voiced and what information is given out by our elected representatives.
2. Minutes are to be taken at the council’s work sessions, where information is gathered, discussed and used to vote on matters in the formal council meetings after each work session. The actual vote in the council meeting provides very little information as to the background and basis of a particular action taken by the mayor and council; therefore, it is important for the citizens to have a record of the discussions and exchange of ideas.
The city has chosen to interpret the Open Meetings Act in work sessions in its own way that provides only for a record of the votes taken, typically the vote to break for their meal and the vote to adjourn the meeting—the least information for the public.
They don’t record the regular business of the work session so citizens can know the basis of decisions affecting their tax dollars. And they don’t even record all the votes taken; a review of the video of the work sessions finds the mayor often taking an “informal poll” of the council members regarding issues that have been discussed (for an example, see the work session meeting on www.powderspringscitycouncilwatch.blogspot.com for the Aug. 10 meeting, Part 3 at the 25:40 time).
This polling of the council members is, in essence, a request to know whether they support an issue to determine what the vote is likely to be in the formal council meeting. No record is being made of this, and it should be.
3. All meetings are to be announced ahead of time, and an agenda of items to be discussed must be posted at the meeting place ahead of time. The mayor and council have decided, when posted at all, to do so only 24 hours in advance. With work sessions beginning at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, posting an agenda inside just before closing on Tuesday (24 hours in advance) does not give working people an opportunity to see the agenda and know what is to be discussed.
Little or no public input is made because no one knows what will be talked about. Why not post the agenda for the council meetings and work sessions at least three days in advance of the meeting? This would make the topics to be discussed available to more citizens to know what will be the order of business. Citizens can then decide whether to come down to see what their council is doing.
The council spent more than $20,000 for the current city website and spends $4,000 yearly for upkeep and support. The city should use the technology we’re paying for to post the agenda and full minutes of all meetings to provide citizens with information that is vital to knowing how decisions are made. We’re already paying for it.
4. I have heard complaints that there is not enough room for people to attend the work sessions in the council’s second-floor meeting room in City Hall. Why not use the same room in the as the regular council meetings?
More people could comfortably attend meetings, where topics of interest to them are being talked about by the council. There’s plenty of work space for the council’s iPads, and there is first-class video and audio equipment for presentations to be made and seen by all.
Right now, only the mayor and council members can see the supporting documents on their iPads while a presentation is being made by staff members or persons before the council. The citizens have already paid for this technology as well, so why not let the public see these materials?
Georgia open-meetings laws are to be liberally interpreted such that all governments, cities included, are open to public scrutiny and review. Even when provisions of the law are open to some interpretation, officials are to lean toward more openness rather than less openness or secrecy.
Citizens deserve to know what discussions and actions are being taken by their elected representatives concerning the taxes that they pay. Open-meetings laws demand that the city make information available to all. Transparency in government is not a suggestion; it’s a requirement of the law.
When will Powder Springs come into full compliance?
—Ra Barr, Powder Springs