Though theirs was certainly not the most egregious violation of the state’s open meeting law in Georgia’s history, Forsyth County officials need to take seriously a directive issued to them from the state attorney general’s office. Indications are that they have.
Back in April, commissioners met with Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt to discuss plans for the upcoming SPLOST vote. Rather than meet as a quorum, which clearly would fall under the open meetings law requiring public notification and access, four commissioners met with the mayor in pairs, two at a time.
When a local political gadfly saw three of the commissioners at city hall at the same time — two on the way out after meeting with the mayor, one on the way in for the next meeting — he filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office alleging a violation of the open meetings law.
The AG’s office agreed, and instructed the county attorney to take steps to make sure future meetings comply with the law’s requirements.
For their part, the four commissioners involved contend that the meetings were not officially planned and that one set of officials meeting with the mayor didn’t know the others intended to do the same thing. Believe what you will.
As violations of the open meetings act go, this one was not particularly flagrant. This isn’t a case of elected officials gathering in some clandestine location to conspire, or “accidentally” meeting up at a restaurant late at night to plan county business. Those sorts of gatherings are unfortunately far too common throughout the state, which is why it is important for the public to remain vigilant in demanding enforcement of the law.
The AG’s office offers an interesting interpretation of the law, finding that “to conduct public business in such a way as to avoid meeting the quorum requirements of the open meetings act is a violation of the act itself.”
The AG’s finding isn’t the same as a ruling handed down in a courtroom, and is always subject to challenge, but in this case the position makes a lot of sense in the court of public opinion. If elected officials are going out of their way to find ways to avoid requirements of the law, they’re violating it just the same.
We like that perspective, and the general public should as well.
There are a handful of determined souls in the community who hold elected bodies under a microscope, looking for every possible minor violation of the meetings law and anxious to make an issue of each in order to garner some attention for themselves. While their efforts may frustrate those in government service, full adherence to the law has to be the ultimate goal, regardless of how finely legal hairs are being split.
As for county officials, they seem to be taking seriously the admonition to more carefully monitor compliance with the open meetings act. On Thursday, they canceled a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting after questions were raised as to whether there had been adequate access to the posted agenda as required by law. Let’s hope that sort of attention to the law is the norm in the future.