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County responds to meeting complaint
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Forsyth County News

 

The Georgia Attorney General's Office has received Forsyth County's response to a complaint contending the local civil service board violated the open meetings act.

Both County Attorney Ken Jarrard and Dana Miles, hearing officer for the civil service board, submitted responses to the issues raised in the complaint.

The complaint, filed March 1 by political activist Nydia Tisdale of Roswell, maintains the civil service board did not give the required 24-hour meeting notice or post it and an agenda for the Jan. 13 session at the meeting site.

Miles, in his letter dated March 21, wrote that the meeting's notice was posted at least 10 days in advance, on the county's Web site and at the county administration building.

He added that a snowstorm earlier that week could have caused some "confusion" about the notice. The clerk sent out an additional notice to news media on Jan. 12, noting the meeting would go on as scheduled despite the weather.

"This notification was sent merely as a courtesy and for clarification," Miles wrote. "Since it was a regularly scheduled meeting, there was no specialized notice requirement and the 24-hour rule did not apply."

According to the open meetings act, 24-hour notice is required "whenever any meeting ... is to be held at a time or place other than at the time and place prescribed for regular meetings."

The law also states that agendas for a meeting must be made available to the public and be posted at the meeting site, which Tisdale contended the board did not follow.

Miles agreed the board had not posted notice at the meeting site, the public safety building, but that it was done at the county administration building.

"As a result of Ms. Tisdale's objection, the board will discontinue its practice of posting the notice at the county administration building," Miles wrote. "Frankly, this seems counterproductive to the intent of the open meetings act because many more people would see the meeting notice at the county administration building."

Though drafted Jan. 6 and available upon request, he wrote, the agenda was not posted at the meeting place.

Jarrard agreed in his letter, dated March 18, that those "technical deficiencies" had occurred and would be "immediately changed."

Jarrard also responded to Tisdale's concern about votes taken at that meeting to appoint a hearing officer and clerk.

According to the open meetings act, votes are not binding if a meeting is found in violation of the requirements of the law.

Since the county commission ultimately approves those appointments, Jarrard wrote, even a finding of a violation at the civil service board would not "necessarily negate" the commission's vote.

"The board of commissioners has the authority to make an independent appointment of the hearing officer," he wrote.

Tisdale said Monday that some of her concerns had been answered by the county responses and others have been left open for the attorney general's office to review.

The explanation regarding 24-hour notice due to the snowstorm cleared up the matter, she said, but other problems were acknowledged, such as the required posting place lacking notice and an agenda.

"Some of my complaint was on the mark and some of it was a little bit off, but I think it was significant enough that it was worth a response from the attorney general," Tisdale said.

She said Jarrard's reply to the appointment of a hearing officer left some "gray area," which she hoped the attorney general would address.

Tisdale said she hopes both Jarrard and Miles would commit to working through these matters with the attorney general's office.

"It's a learning process, and that's what I was trying to achieve is to educate others on this law," Tisdale said.

The attorney general's office will next review the responses and begin steps toward a mediation program, spokeswoman Lauren Kane said.

"The whole point of the mediation problem is to try and solve the problem and avoid litigation ... and to advise people about the law," she said.

Due to a high volume of complaints at the office, Kane said the issues will be addressed in the order they are received. No time frame for a resolution can be made.

"The county understands the concerns raised, treats them very seriously, and will assist with ensuring that the open meetings act receives full compliance," Jarrard wrote.