Public hearing doesn’t mean the public gets to know anything

Jane Osborn wrote:
Requesting such a hearing before January 24 would give the opportunity to have all this information presented and for questions to be asked and answered.
Except that’s not the way it works around here. Public hearing locally means the chairman or mayor or whoever says “Who wants to speak for?” and maybe somebody speaks. And then “Who wants to speak against?” and maybe somebody speaks. It doesn’t mean that the Commission or the Council or the Authority presents anything for the public to consider.

Witness the hearing the Lowndes County Commission held in December on the documents related to the Comprehensive Plan. The only reason the public knew anything about what was in those documents was that Gretchen got them from somewhere else after the Commission refused to supply them in response to an open records request. The Commission never distributed any of the relevant documents to the public. Only one citizen spoke, perhaps because nobody else knew what to speak about.

Almost none of the local municipalities or boards or authorities routinely present to the public the information that is in the packets they see before the discuss or vote. There are rare exceptions, such as the VLMPO and other organizations or projects administered by the Southern Georgia Regional Commission (SGRC). SGRC is a state agency, not a local agency. Why does Lowndes County and all its municipalities and boards avoid transparency?

Why can’t you, the public, see what’s in a rezoning request before an appointed body makes a recommendation on it or an elected body votes on it? What can’t you see a contract before a vote? Or even after, for that matter?

Is it simply that local government bodies are used to dealing with such things on paper, and paper costs a lot to distribute to the public? If so, that’s a lingering legacy we could do without, especially considering that contracts all start in electronic form nowadays, and even hand-written rezoning applications take only a few minutes to scan and turn into a PDF. Then it’s only another minute to slap them up on the web.

Here’s how it’s done in Travis County, Texas. Here’s how it’s done not quite as well in Chatham County, Georgia.

There’s no reason the local elected and appointed bodies here couldn’t do the same. No, I don’t believe it would cost more. All the elected bodies and many of the appointed ones are already running websites. Sticking board packets on the web routinely would save a lot of open records requests. It would even lead to information from the public that would help local governments do their job.

That Internet thing: it might be here to stay.


1 thought on “Public hearing doesn’t mean the public gets to know anything

  1. Barbara Stratton

    I’ve made these same comments before. It’s just part of the attitude that is popular with some elected & appointed officials “We’ve been chosen. Now go away & don’t ask any questions about what we are doing until it’s time to vote again.” I don’t think all the individuals share the attitude, but some do & over time it has become standard procedure. Hopefully, as more citizens pay attention & ask for more insight procedure will adjust. There is a reason for open meetings & sunshine laws & it’s not so citizens can listen to or read about decisions based on information they are not allowed to hear or observe.

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