I kind of like transparent government —Ashley Paulk @ LCC 2012 02 28

It’s good to know County Commission Chairman Ashley Paulk supports transparency. However, if he considers certain details important enough for the public to know, how about if the Commission puts them in its own minutes? Or publishes its own videos of its own meetings? Or even publish a list of changes that it approves when it changes an ordinance?

At the 28 February 2012 Regular Session of the Lowndes County Commission, Chairman Ashley Paulk said:

I kind of like transparent government.

He proceeded to tell VDT reporter David Rodock that

Not killing the messenger, but it was written in your paper the other day that the alcohol ordinance was kind of rushed and people were not aware of it. If you would go back to your story of May the 11th we discussed that in great depth.

Here’s the video:

I kind of like transparent government —Ashley Paulk @ LCC 2012-02-28
Regular Session, Lowndes County Commission (LCC), Lowndes County Commission,
Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 28 February 2012.
Video by Gretchen Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE).

He recommended that the VDT editors research their own archives. Fair enough, but how about if we look at the Commissions own archives of its own minutes?

First let’s see what the reporter wrote that the Chairman was objecting to: David Rodock for the VDT 25 February 2012, Lowndes bars face new closing hours this weekend

Lowndes County commissioners unanimously approved an update recently to the Lowndes County Alcoholic Beverage ordinance that will curtail drinking hours for county patrons by an hour.

At the Feb. 14 Lowndes County Board of Commissioners meeting, no mention was made of changes to hours of sale. Instead, commissioners Crawford Powell (District 3) and Richard Raines (District 2) saved their comments for how measurements between educational, religious buildings and alcohol establishments were determined.

What if we research the Commission’s own archives? There was no public Commission meeting on 11 May 2011, but I often get the date wrong by a day or so, so I can hardly criticize anybody for that.

In the minutes for the Regular Session of 10 May 2012, we find this:

County Manager, Joe Pritchard, informed the Commission that the County Attorney was working on an update, for their review, of the alcohol ordinance. Mr. Pritchard explained that over the years, the ordinance had been updated; however, these updates had not been combined into one document. County Attorney, Walter Elliott, explained that the current ordinances predate staff and that a consolidated document will benefit county operations as well as the public.

No discussion at all.

Well, maybe they discussed it in the previous day’s Work Session. In the minutes for the Regular Session of 9 May 2012, we find this:

County Manager, Joe Pritchard, asked the Commission when they might like to discuss the Sunday Alcohol referendum. Commissioner Raines stated that he thought it would draw some discussion. Vice Chairperson Evans stated that she would like to see it placed on the next agenda; Commissioner Raines stated that he agreed.

They discussed that they would like to discuss it two weeks later.

So let’s look in the minutes for the Work Session of 23 May 2011:

County Manager, Joe Pritchard, asked County Attorney, Walter Elliott, to provide the Commission with an overview of the proposed Sunday Alcohol Sales legislation. Vice Chairperson Evans and Commissioner Powell mentioned that it would be beneficial to talk with the cities, prior to moving forward. Commissioner Raines added that it would be helpful to coordinate to ensure that another time of sales issue was not created similar to what the county is experiencing now with consumption on the premises. Commissioner Powell added that unless there was a tremendous push from constituents, he would support sitting back and watching how some of the larger counties handle the issue.

OK, that’s some discussion, but the upshot was that they would do nothing for the moment.

How about the minutes of the 24 May 2011 Regular Session? There’s no mention of an alcohol ordinance.

On the other hand, reporter Rodock did ask Chairman Paulk:

This change mimics an ordinance within the City of Valdosta that prohibits the sale of drinks past 2 a.m. Previously, bars and night clubs in unincorporated portions of Lowndes County were able to serve drinks as late as they wanted except on Sundays, where they were required to cease sales by 2:55 a.m.

“I think we needed to be uniform with the city and their codes,” said Chairman Ashley Paulk in an interview with the Times. “The later people stay out the more problems you have; the more accidents or DUIs.”

And he did interview Sheriff Prine:

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine said many bar patrons were leaving Remerton or Valdosta establishments to drive to Lowndes County bars.

“With the bars closing basically at the same time, hopefully, they’ll break it up and go home if they’re not able to bar hop from one bar to another,” he explained. “There’s been times when bars are open at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning, which is ridiculous.”

So let’s see, the VDT apparently got the story correct about the 14 February 2012 Commission meeting, considering that Chairman Paulk did not deny that part, and instead referred to some other meeting. (I would look in the minutes for the February 2012 meeting, but they haven’t been published on the county’s website yet.) And VDT reporter Rodock went beyond what happened in that meeting and interviewed both the County Commission Chair and the Sheriff, both of whom talked about the bar closing time issue. So the VDT did research what the Commissioners didn’t say when they voted on the changes to the alcohol ordinance.

So what was said about alcohol in the 23 May 2011 Work Session? LAKE was there, and videoed it, so you can watch and listen for yourself. It appears to me that they do discuss closing times towards the end of Part 2. How was someone at the vote at the 14 February 2012 Regular Session to know that? Not by looking at the Commission’s own minutes.

So, how about if the Commission puts important details in its own minutes? Or publishes its own videos of its own meetings? How about the Commission publish proposals with its agendas, so we can see what they are voting on?

Finally, at the end of the 28 February 2012 Regular Session, Chairman Paulk remarked, turning to the other Commissioners,

Any other comments?

So, we do actually have Commissioner Commments at the Lowndes County Commission. Now if we can get the other Commissioners to say something….