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August 26, 2006

Another Blunder By The County Manager

Making $80,000 a year, with questions increasing as to exactly what he does, the County Manager has once again failed to do the simplest of tasks—posting the meeting notice on the court house door. This isn’t something that somebody “does”; it is a requirement of the LAW.

With the most important meeting of the year being held, someone “forgets” to post the notice? What is the excuse to the Commissioners this time? That the office is understaffed? That no one was available (out of the 6 people in the office) to post the notice? Just what is the reason for the failure to post the meeting notice on the courthouse door?

The County Manager has told the BOC “what the law says” at several meetings. He told them at the beginning of the year that they didn’t have to take minutes or even tape work sessions. He told the citizens, after he was questioned several times about it, that it was the LAW. However, the Attorney General (with then County Attorney Nix concurring) interpreted the law differently, and minutes are required.

On Thursday, August 24 the court house door was checked at 12:55 PM—almost 4 hours after the time the notice was required to be posted. At 2:25 PM, both doors and the bulletin board at the courthouse were checked—there was still no notice. At 4:30 PM two commissioners were advised that there was no notice. Maybe it was a mistake to inform them, but these conversations revealed that the County Manager had been advised around 2:30 PM of his error and was consulting with legal counsel.

By Friday morning at 9:00 AM, there had been “a statement” concocted and an “EMERGENCY MEETING” was held for the final public hearing (required by law) and the “millage rate setting hearing.” The County Manager handed out the statement which read that there was not a posting of the meeting as required by law, but it was only “several hours late.” Following is the reasoning (the written statement presented at the hearing) for the Emergency Meeting:

“Legal council (sic) has advised that special circumstances are applicable for the called meeting due to the critical nature of a timely levy of property taxes. Should the millage rate not be set at the prescribed time, there would be an undue burden placed upon the county that would cause the delay of the submission of the tax digest and a delay in creating and mailing the 2006 tax bills. Given that the 5 year history, which gives notice of the meeting, has been previously run in the local paper, as well as specific notice of today’s meeting being provided to the local paper, this board recognizes that special circumstances exist and this meeting will proceed as planned.”

Emergency?? How many times in the past 5 years (and longer) has the BOC set the millage rate later than August 25th?? We’re betting at least 4 out of the 5. So how can this be considered an emergency? It’s just a way to get out of a huge problem created by a lack of attention and negligence.

A citizen went on record stating he felt the meeting was illegal and anything voted on would be null and void. No one spoke at the hearing due to this protest and the meeting lasted approximately 4 minutes. (The previous public hearing lasted approximately 9 minutes.)

It’s not that any citizen that attended the meetings can even imagine the BOC would change the amount of the millage. What bothers us is the fact that this BOC can’t seem to uphold the laws or have the County Manager do so. This is the second time the meeting notice hasn’t been posted this year. The first time the meeting had to be called off.

Maybe the County Manager needs to have some Administrative Leave and use that time to read the Open Meetings and Open Records laws along with several of the cases that have been brought to the courts concerning these laws. The courts most always rule on the side of Open Government. It is also troubling that the County Manager and BOC use such lame excuses for holding Emergency Meetings. The BOC’s tactic seems to be-- don’t do what the law contemplates and commands, but figure out how to barely meet the minimum required by law and then how to get around that if it is possible.

Meeting agendas and notices can be put on the courthouse door up to TWO WEEKS before the meeting (the LAW says so). At the last BOC meeting the Commissioners and the County Manager were questioned as to why the agendas were not posted when they were sent to the Monticello News on Monday afternoon? That would give people time to see the agenda from Tuesday morning until the meeting the next Monday. The law says the agenda should be posted so people have sufficient time to see what items will be discussed and be able to make arrangements to attend the meetings.

The County Manager has been posting the agendas on Friday afternoons for a Monday morning meeting. How many people come to the courthouse on Saturday and Sunday to see the agenda? It’s just another way to hinder openness in government.

Citizens and voters who had such high hopes for a new beginning and more honest, open government are now totally frustrated and feeling betrayed. We are paying much higher salaries and have more staff then ever before; we expect higher quality performance than we’ve been getting. Jasper County can and should do better. Citizens must demand it to make it a reality.

TWG
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