Let me put this as plainly as I can. Executive Session meetings by the Board of Commissioners have not been the problem. The abuse of their Executive Session meetings has most definitely been a problem.
So, it struck me as odd that the Editor of the Henry Herald, Jim Zachary, is just now coming out in opposition to the Board of Commissioners lack of transparency through their abuses of Executive Session. I’ve been pointing it out for more than a year now. Zachary wrote yesterday:
EDITORIAL: Do the people’s business in the open
A discussion this week by the Henry County Board of Commissioners regarding executive session meetings calls into question the very need for closed-door meetings by local officials.
Whether you agree with other positions of District I Commissioner Warren Holder or not, his comments regarding government transparency are worthy of note.
County commissions, city councils and local government committees do not have to go into executive session.
They choose to.
He was referring to the passive-aggressive statement Holder made earlier this week on the matter:
“This could be moot because based on the new leadership there are not going to be any back-door meetings or back-room meetings and there won’t be a need for executive session,” he said.
Bitter much, Warren?
The promise of no more back room deals made by “new leadership” has nothing to do with Executive Session meetings, but everything to do with the lack of transparency displayed by current Board members. Private meetings have been held such as the ones with the FAA officials and adjacent land-owners prior to purchasing Tara Field Airport; or the illegal coordination of votes during a recess of one of the annual budget meetings; or for that matter, the land deals that quietly netted the disgraced former Zoning Board Chairman $34k in real estate commissions; his Uncle another $130k on a the purchase of a warehouse; and the nephew of the former Police Chief who raked in a cool $4 million for the firing range property.
Back. Room. Deals. All of them.
To be clear, the State Legislature passed and Governor Deal signed into law H.B. 397 last year that strengthened the Open Meetings Act, commonly referred to as the Sunshine Law. Their consensus is a genuine need for Executive Sessions to be held in discussions about employment matters, pending litigation, and land acquisition. But what do they know. According to Zachary it’s merely something they “choose” to do.
In his defense though, Editor Zachary asked a valid question when he wrote:
The AG’s office has said that a county commission, city council or any local governmental body must include in its minutes the “specific reason,” for a closed-door meeting. Is simply saying, “We have a real estate matter” a “specific reason?”
But, in nearly every single instance in the last four years of the Mathis Administration, whenever the BOC has voted to adjourn into ES the following motion was made:
“…to adjourn into Executive Session in accordance with the provisions of O.C.G.A. 50-14-3, and other applicable laws, for the purpose of discussing the acquisition of real estate, pending and/or potential litigation, and personnel matters.”
No specificity whatsoever has ever been given by any of the Commissioners on exactly why they needed to meet in private. But Editor Zachary didn’t seem to have a problem with this practice for the last four years under the administration of BJ Mathis in spite of the Open Meetings Law which states:
(a) When any meeting of an agency is closed to the public pursuant to any provision of this chapter, the specific reasons for such closure shall be entered upon the official minutes
So, just to set Lame-Duck Commissioner Holder and the Editor Zachary straight, no candidates have called for the end of Executive Session meetings and for the two of them to do so is foolish. The call has been made, however, for more transparency, which is exactly what Editor Zachary is just now opining for.
There’s a big difference.