“There should be a law…” is something that I tend to avoid. Quite frankly, we have too many laws as it is, and most of the time when you hear that phrase, what comes next is something that will curtail civil or economic liberties to some degree.
Of course, with that opening paragraph, there is bound to be a ‘but’, and here it is:
From looking at the Official Code of Georgia as available on LexisNexis online, it appears that there is no law requiring local government meetings to be open to the public. This, to me, is despicable. While there may be SOME reason for closed door sessions in certain extremely limited situations, by and large local government meetings should be open to the public.
But there is an equally important issue here, one that I’ve never seen addressed – and the one that resulted in me doing that search of OCGA. You see, I’ve lived in several cities in Georgia spread across each of the State’s lateral zones (north, central, south). In each of those, I’ve noticed the same things happening in every town: local commission meetings are advertised as ‘open to the public’ but are held at times during the workday when John Q. Public is at work and therefore cannot attend. Local media coverage is often spotty, at best, and therefore John Q. Public may or may not be truly informed of the decisions his local leaders are making – decisions that affect his day to day life far more drastically and severely than any decision made at the State or Federal level.
In fact, in many counties throughout this State, the local government – either directly or through the school board – is the primary employer in that county. Yet because government and schools must be open during normal business hours, these employees cannot attend the very meetings that affect them both as citizens and employees.
Furthermore, because these meetings are held during normal working hours, only a select few can even consider running for these offices or accepting any appointments to these boards. Thus, we primarily have either only those that essentially own their own company and can make their own hours or those with no job running for these local offices and being appointed to these boards. In other words, only a very small percentage of the overall population is able to run for these positions, with the vast majority of the population being unable to even consider these positions due to their employment.
So yes, there most definitely SHOULD be a state law that dictates that not only should every local government-linked commission meeting be open to the public, but also that those meetings should be held AFTER normal business hours. This then allows the public to truly have the chance to attend and provide their input, and it allows for a wider range of candidates for the positions, thereby strengthening both the overall process and, in time, the community itself.
In fact, I’ll have a draft proposal for a bill tonight.
Let’s get on this, and let’s make this happen. It is OUR communities on the line, and OUR lives and property, and it is time WE stand up and demand this of our General Assembly.
[CORRECTION] Even though this was pointed out in the comments below (and if you’re reading this, you can see the comments) and I admitted it and thanked the source, I will point out here that I was wrong about there being no law requiring public meetings. Per GriftDrift’s first comment below,
O.C.G.A. 50-14-1 states-
“Meetings to be open to public; limitation on action to contest agency action; recording; notice of time and place; access to minutes; telecommunications conferences”
With 50-14-1 (A)1(a)defining agency as “Every county, municipal corporation, school district, or other political subdivision of this state”.