Transparency not a problem –Bill Slaughter @ VLMPO 2013-10-23

Defining away another problem, like he already did Internet access, Lowndes County Chairman Bill Slaughter said:

I can’t honestly just buy into the real problem of transparency in this community.

This was after numerous people in the room at the VLMPO Open House on Common Community Vision at Mildred Hunter 23 October 2013 expressed concerns about needs to video local government meetings and put them online, and to make various processes more open.

Regarding videoing, Slaughter trotted out former Valdosta Mayor John Fretti’s old chestnut about allegedly in cities where meetings are televised citizens grandstand and the meetings drag on forever. Nevermind that there are numerous ways to do it, such as putting videos on the web and not simulcasting, and in places like Tallahassee that do both not many citizens usually show up. The people I’ve seen grandstanding consistently at local government meetings around here are former Mayor Fretti and a succession of Lowndes County Chairmen.

I have indeed seen an Austin City Council meeting continue overnight into the next morning. (That’s Molly Ivins supporting Barton Springs in a picture by Alan Pogue for the Austin Chronicle.) But that was when numerous citizens were expressing their very valid concerns about floods and aquifer recharge zones. If local people around here get that concerned now that, twenty years later, those very same issues have become prominent here, will our local governments listen? So far they have not listened about getting more people involved in the Army Corps of Engineers study about flooding in our watersheds. And the County Commission approved rezoning for Moody Family Housing in an aquifer recharge zone without waiting for groundscans related to the sinkhole in the site plan. Citizens are already complaining the County Commission isn’t listening about other issues, including suing a local business for the benefit of a company owned by investors in New York City.

Slaughter did several times refer people to LAKE for videos of County Commission meetings. Thanks, Bill, but that’s really your responsibility as County Chairman, and we’ll keep pointing that out. I asked him if he minded if I videoed him saying that, and he said no problem, sure. (I didn’t have to ask him, of course, given that he was speaking in his capacity as an elected official.) I didn’t get him saying that, but I did get this gem:

Until it’s voted on, that’s when it becomes an official county document. Other than that it’s just like this piece of paper [crumples it up].

Common Community Vision,
Open House, Valdosta-Lowndes Metropolitan Planning Organization (VLMPO),
Videos by John S. Quarterman for Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange (LAKE),
Valdosta, Lowndes County, Georgia, 23 October 2013.

This was in reference to April Huntley (pictured) pointing out that to see what Commissioners are voting on citizens have to file open records requests, and me pointing out that even then you don’t get them until after the Commissioners have voted. On the one hand Slaughter said they weren’t really documents until the Commission voted on them, and on the other he said you could file an open records request for them. Nevermind that most of the documents in the agenda packets are never voted on by the Commissioners anyway. If you write a Commissioner a letter, do they vote on it? No, but it may well be in an agenda packet along with a site plan or a legal opinion, or many other documents that are public records according to Georgia law:

“All documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, or similar material prepared and maintained or received in the course of the operation of a public office or agency” are public records.

So if the county has been crumpling up records the Commission hasn’t voted on, or refusing to produce them in response to open records requests, Lowndes County has been violating state law.

The Lowndes County Commission has an Open Records Officer, Paige Dukes, but she has previously refused to supply open records the county plainly has in response to an open records request. And the county consistently provides copies of agenda packets after the Commissioners have voted on them, so even if you are directly affected by an agenda item, you can’t see what the Commissioners are looking at before they vote.

Do you think we have no problem of transparency in Lowndes County?