October 21, 2014
Watchdogs, newspaper reporters, and a few county officials attended the Open Government Forum in Macon last Friday. This forum was sponsored by the Transparency Project of Georgia and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. Jim Zachary (long time newspaper editor and fierce open government advocate) representing the TPOG, and Hollie Manheimer representing the GFAF were the main speakers. Thank you to Charles Forsythe for attending and recording the forum so we could have these videos.
Jim Zachary did not mince words and neither did those in attendance about the problems obtaining open records. Everyone in attendance agreed that the Attorney General Sam Olens does nothing to enforce the open government laws. Open meetings didn’t seem to be as big of a complaint, but there were problems with agendas. Remedies under the law were explained as well as the goal for all watchdogs should be to create a culture of openness—something TWG has been trying to do since 2001.
Mr. Zachary had a lot to say about Executive Sessions—also known as Closed Sessions—but better known as “Back Door Deal Making.” Watch what he had to say:
There is no requirement in the law for Executive Session. The BOC and City Council go into every Executive Session by CHOICE, not because they have to.
He also had a lot to say about how the newspapers had abdicated their role as watchdogs and as open government advocates.
At the end of the meeting, there was a question and answer session with those in attendance. Several war stories were shared by watchdogs in attendance. Karen Degges, Jasper County Manager, had her say as well. Remember, this is in a room of “watchdogs,” many of whom hear excuses about open records all the time.
If Ms. Degges and her staff are just so very busy all the time, in fact so busy they can hardly do their work and answer the “hundreds” of open records requests submitted by “Mary Patrick” (Jasper’s aggressive watchdog according to her), we need answers to the following questions:
- Why doesn’t Ms. Degges come to work on a regular basis and on time so she can get her work done?
- An example of how hard Ms. Degges works—
- Monday –10/13/14—Holiday—off work
- Tuesday—10/14/14—not at work
- Wednesday—10/15/14—not at work, came to work at 5:00pm to attend BOC meeting
- Thursday—10/16/14—at work approximately 2 hours late
- Friday—10/17/14—in Macon all day at forum (along with Sharon Robinson) (Note: They arrived at forum 20 minutes late)
- Monday 10/20/14—not at work
- How is Karen Degges going to do all this extra work billing, doing the work orders, and doing the day to day management of JCWSA, when she is so busy she can hardly do her work and get out open records requests—something required by law?
- How is Ms. Degges getting paid when there is no way she has PTO (paid time off) left? Is it true she doesn’t even turn in PTO when she is out? Is she exempt and has she been given unlimited time off by this BOC?
Mr. Zachary ended the forum with these comments:
We all must continue to advocate for transparency and open government and less “back door deal making” in Jasper County.
Please help us by being watchdogs too and reporting to us what you see, hear, and know about what is going on in Jasper County at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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