January 27, 2015
There has been repeated comments by our BOC and County Manager about “bringing Jasper County into the 21st century.” Mostly this comment is made as they agree to spend money and/or go into debt for something they want.
At the last BOC meeting Comm. Pennamon repeated what TWG has been saying for years—he wanted staff to be more open and get the county website up to date.
Well, talk is good, but as long as “staff” does everything possible to keep any citizen from obtaining records, then it is not open government.
In fact the day after Comm. Pennamon said all this, Karen Degges wrote and told me that I was just obsessed with getting records and wanted to charge me $134.62 for “trying” to find her own PTO (paid time off) records —
how much time she had taken and how much time she had left.
Note to Ms. Degges and the BOC: I am obsessed with getting the TRUTH, and only the records tell the truth. The more they are hidden, the more they matter.
This past week there was an update on the county website to make it look like Comm. Pennamon’s request was being followed. Here’s the new look (www.jaspercountyga.org
As you can see there is a big purple button on the home page now where you can ask for open records. The law requires that you get your open records request as soon as possible if they are available, and no longer than 3 days. The law does not allow records to be held for 3 days, even though that has frequently happened. The law also says you can email, telephone, or ask for records orally and obtain them.
This new addition to the website is a far cry from bringing the county into the 21st century and allowing citizens easy access to records.
The current website still has problems, but it is getting better. For example there have been some changes after citizen comments brought out several serious problems:
- Under “Meetings” there is a tab for Public Hearings, but the last two public hearings were not put up on the website—the CIE hearing and the liquor license hearings were never placed here on the website.
- Under “Meetings” there is a tab for Agendas, but you can never go back and look at past agendas, because there is only one agenda; the agenda of the last meeting–until it is updated with the agenda for the next meeting (on a Friday before a Monday meeting).
- Under “Bid Documents” there is finally a link to the latest road work being bid, but previous to that, many items being bid were not even on the website. Comm. Henry complained that only one company bid on the last road work that was awarded. That is because either they were called and notified or they happened to get the local paper. Most companies check the county websites under “bids” but our website never had the information or documents there, so no one knew there was work being bid out. Hopefully, this will be corrected going forward.
- Under “Departments” one has to hunt for any jobs that might be available. Go to Human Resources, then to job openings. It was brought up in citizen comments that there wasn’t even a job application on the website—instead every ad said that people had to come to the office to get an application. That problem now seems to be corrected. However, under Job Opportunities it still says, “All Qualified applicants should come by the Human Resources Department on the ground floor of the Courthouse to obtain an application.”
Under “Departments” Planning and Zoning there is no form for a Business License or any information about obtaining a business license. There are no forms for building permits. Again, people should not have to drive to the courthouse to obtain such information, especially when there is no staff available to help them when they get there.
The county website could be a great source of information if the BOC actually wanted it to be; however, too many documents have to be requested and then when that document isn’t something the County Manager wants released the delays and harassment begin.
As TWG has said for years, and now Comm. Pennamon has publicly stated, 2015 is time to get a fresh start. Jasper County government is far too addicted to the notion that government belongs to those in positions of authority. In Jasper County, providing information about issues, discussing a proposal fully and openly in public, seldom is heard.
Those elected and appointed to government positions are caretakers – only caretakers. They are not owners. Government is owned by the governed, not by the governors. Government exists to serve those who live in Jasper County.
** To keep the taxpayers of Jasper County, Georgia informed as to where and how their tax dollars are being spent.
** To keep the taxpayers abreast of local policies and laws being discussed and enacted.
** We advocate more open government, less government spending, and lower property taxes.