[CORRECTED] Daytime Meetings Subvert the Principles of Democratic Republics

“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”.

43 Replies to “[CORRECTED] Daytime Meetings Subvert the Principles of Democratic Republics”

  1. Jeff,

    Your idea to require meetings be held after working hours is admirable.

    But you’re wrong about their being no law requiring local government meetings be open to the public.

    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”.

    Georgia actually has some pretty strong “sunshine” laws.
    .-= griftdrift´s last blog ..The Morning Line – Atlanta Mayor’s Race =-.

    1. Grift,

      Thanks for the clarification. That one was somewhat buried, and I didn’t think to look there in the course of my own research for this piece. I was instead looking in Title 36, Local Government.

      That said, this actually makes writing my bill that much easier.

  2. Well said Jeff! I completely agree. I’ve always had a serious problem with the fact that a lot of government meetings took place during school so I could never see them. I can’t wait to see your bill, it’s sure to be good!
    .-= Kyle Constable´s last blog ..Lee Ferrell on the Attack =-.

  3. Well, in all honesty, there’s “open to the public” and open to the public. All the laws really do is mean they can’t legally bar the public from their meetings. However, they stack the deck to keep citizen involvement to a minimum. Frankly, it’s dispicable. The City of Albany does this, and most other communities do it as well, and whether by accident or design, it keeps the same types of people in power.

  4. Has the city of Albany changed their meeting schedule? When I was covering them several years ago, committee meetings were held Tuesday mornings (I want to say 2nd and 4th) and regular meetings were held on Tuesday evenings (1st and 3rd, I believe). Back then Dougherty County met in the mornings, school board was at night as was ADICA. Granted this has been a while ago.

    1. From the City’s website:

      Commission committees meet in work sessions at 8:30 a.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month in Room 120 of the Government Center, 222 Pine Ave. Recommendations from these work sessions are brought to the full Commission for consideration at 8 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of each month in Room 100 of the Government Center.

      I’m not sure when there was a change, but it did change. With only one meeting outside of working hours, many people feel there’s no point. Frankly, as this description is written, it indicates to most that the regular sessions are the formal votes and everything is already decided.

  5. I challenge you to find a single community in the area, other than Albany, that holds it’s meetings during daytime. There are none. They all have meetings at night for the reason that council members themselves would most often be unavailable during the day. Look at any City or County in Southwest Georgia, this is how they do it.

    Meetings are open to the public pursuant to the above-referenced open meetings laws. A body may go into executive session, closed to the public, only for the purpose of discussing certain matters; personnel, acquisition of real estate, pending litigation.

  6. When does the Lee County Commission meet? When does the Leesburg City Council meet? 4pm is relatively late in the day.

    Cobb County? Have they moved that do this area?

  7. If you want to bitch about the times of the Albany City Commission meetings fine, but don’t unfairly lump everyone else in with that group.

    1. FTCIV:

      Checking area counties, Sumter, Crisp, and Worth all have meetings during ‘normal business hours’. Lee is the only one that most meetings are in the evening, though what little evidence I could find for Mitchell County seems to point that direction as well. Baker, Calhoun, and Terrell Counties do not have websites, though the Calhoun County School System does and they meet in the evenings.

      This is NOT just one particular county, even in this area. It IS a widespread problem, and it needs to stop.

  8. You must be referring to appointed boards like the assessors, etc. The commissions in this area meet at night almost exclusively.

    1. In every county other than Lee that has these issues, I am referring specifically to the Board of Commissioners, not any appointed board.

  9. Unfortunately you are incorrect. Sumter’s Board of Commissioners meeets at night. The meetings to which you refer during business hours are committees, usually composed of 2 or 3 commissioners. I’m sure they can reschedule if they like.

    Worth County has a meeting at 8am once a month and another at night. 8 am is pretty early in the morning. A commissioner ought to be able to roll with that once a month. For the record the City of Sylvester always meets at night.

    Baker: County meets once a month at 7:30pm, City once a month at night.

    Calhoun: All night.

    Randolph: 8am once a month. City of Cuthbert at night.

    Terrell: Night. City of Dawson too.

    Lee County Board of Commissoners meet at 6pm, as does the City Commission.

    Early County: 6pm, City of Blakely: 6pm.

    What else you got?

    1. Colquitt County Commission’s website is vague on times. But the minutes from their July 14 meeting indicates an 11:00 AM meeting time.

      As for FTCIV’s earlier comment that 4:00 PM is sort of late in the day, it’s still during work hours. I get off at 4:00, earlier than most folks I know, and I would still have to take time off to make it to those meetings.

      And 8:00 AM meetings are still during the work day as well. A commissioner might be able to “roll with that” once a month, but what about their boss? Granted, it’s not an issue probably since most in government work for themselves or have flexible schedules. But others? I don’t know that my job would be that understanding. Obviously, the same goes for 7:30 AM.

  10. People in the communities of Southwest Georgia are NOT being deprived of their right to participate in local government because of meeting times. End of story. I know this for a simple fact. Many of them are my clients.

    1. Many of who? What line of work are you in?

      And per the websites, my info above is correct. Meetings in Sumter, Crisp, Worth, and at least one in Lee have happened during ‘normal working hours’, and thus the people in these communities are being deprived of their right to participate in local government due to meeting times. Furthermore, I am not only limiting this effort to SWGA, but to the entire State. Therefore to claim that 5 of 159 counties do not do this and therefore no state law is needed is absurd.

    2. Really? So everyone in these counties and cities are free to just take off from work to participate? Sure, occasionally I can see that. Most bosses are pretty lenient about the occasional absence or coming in late. But to actually run and be a commissioner? Yes, many who would like to ARE being “deprived of their right to participate in local government”. Is everyone? No, but many are.

      Besides, there is zero reason why meetings should be held during the normal working hours. None.

  11. Dude, I’m sitting here LOOKING at the Sumpter County website right now and you are just 100% wrong. As I said, Worth meets once in the morning and once at night per month. They do it at 8am, as early as possible, like I said.

    You have pointed out maybe 4 or 5 instances of meetings during working hours, while the large majority are the opposite.

    1. First, I’d think that if you were looking at the Sumter County website, you could spell it right 😉

      Second, (and seriously since my first comment was merely a joke) while most may indeed be during the evening hours, for people who live in those areas where meetings are held during work hours, things are a good bit different. If you have “clients”, then I assume you have a flexible work schedule to some extent. I don’t. I work for a company that expects me to be at work at 7:30 AM every morning and for me to stay until 4:00 every day. So do most people.

      While sure, everyone can take off on occasion, how understanding is the boss going to be when you tell him you’ll be taking off for the morning of the 2nd Tuesday of each month because you’re going to be a Commissioner. What time will you be in? Oh, you don’t know, because the meeting might take a couple of hours. That changes the shape. It’s even worse if you just want to be involved and not actually hold office, because it makes less sense to a non-political person.

      If you can do it, then great. I hope you take advantage of it. But a significant number of people in the State of Georgia can’t. Whether they ever do or not is irrelevant. They should have the opportunity. And again, there is ZERO reason to not have the meetings in the late evening.

  12. Hmmmmm. Well they used to meet in the evening. I’m a little surprised it’s in the middle of the day.

    Anyway, I think it’s okay to advocate after hours meetings. Kind of killing a fly with a sledgehammer but what the hey. Although may I suggest that since local government set their own hours, perhaps the change should be pursued at the local level instead of a state mandate? Seems more libertarian to me. 😀

    But, Jeff, I do think you should edit your original entry. I’m a big fan of correction by comment but given your format, many people may see the original blurb and never click on the rest of the article. Continuing to have the line “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” is extremely misleading.

    That’s the way myths are started.
    .-= griftdrift´s last blog ..The Morning Line – Atlanta Mayor’s Race =-.

    1. Grift:

      My idea is to require ALL meetings – work sessions included – to start no earlier than 6pm during the work week. Therefore, a work session happening during the day still fits with my overall goal here.

  13. Yeah, Jeff.

    I get it.

    I was just pointing out that the regular commission meetings in Colquitt County are at 7:00pm.

    You know, part of this deal is you are expected to be correct and clear.

    Right now, you still have something in your main article which has been shown to be false and you have a contributor with a comment that was incomplete. Hardly correct or clear.

    Have fun storming the castle.

  14. If you will simply look at the facts, most do not start before that time. You have pointed out not more than a handful of examples. Sumter County meets at 6. Again, the committees meet during the day. Again, I assume the members of those committees scheduled the meetings. They are put on the committees AFTER they are elected to the commission. So how is anyone being deprived?

    Where it’s an appointed board, same thing….the elected body appoints people, those people select a time when they can meet.

  15. Grift:

    Saw your 5:02 just now – AFTER reading your 6:04. It has been corrected, and I’m putting that in the title now so people know to look for it.

  16. Day meetings or night meetings it really doesn’t make a lot of difference. The people who want to attend will find away. Several years ago, I was covering the Dougherty County commission and they held a series of annual budget meetings probably ten meetings total. Some were scheduled at 8 in the morning others at 7 at night and all hours in between and on varying days. The number of citizens to show up in total at all ten meetings…ZERO. In all my years watching government meetings, in most cases, unless a school board is doing attendance zones; a county/city commission is talking trash pick up, leash laws or cable tv; and an occasional zoning application for a planning commission, folks don’t go. It’s a proverbial mountain out of a molehill.

    1. CC:

      If it is such a ‘molehill’, then it shouldn’t be too difficult for the General Assembly to take up this measure and pass it to the Governor for his signature. The fact of the matter is, right now people are denied their right to participate in their local governments because of these meeting times. In fact, I’m doing my research right now and I’ve identified at least 9 cities/counties in South GA with these issues. This doesn’t include the 15 counties I’ve examined that don’t have a website and therefore I do not yet have data for. And this is out of a total sample of 32 cities/counties I’ve looked at already.

  17. Tom, can we do something about skull photo, please? I love to read your comments, but the skull photo? Is there a story?

    Next, I completely agree with asking for evening meetings. Rather tired of the limitations in perspectives.

    1. Jackie: The “skull” is the comic book hero Ghost Rider, who turns into that image in the presence of evil. Not only is it a character I have an affinity for, but it seems kind of appropriate 😉

      To all others: So far, no one has given zero reason why it can’t be evenings, only their feelings that it doesn’t prevent anyone from participating. Unfortunately, I know of several people who have expressed their opinions to me about how they would love to be more involved, but daytime meetings aren’t really an option for them.

      If it keeps good people from participating, not just as a spectator or speaker, but their willingness to run, then is it worth keeping things as they are?

  18. Why do you call this Southwest Georgia Politics? You really don’t have many stories that involve anywhere in Southwest Georgia other than Albany and Lee County. The rest is stuff about the Governor’s race and other statewide races.

    1. FTCIV:

      We also cover all General Assembly candidates in a 9 county area, as much as we are aware of them. Indeed, even Austin Scott – a Governor candidate – is from SWGA, just not from one of the 9 counties in particular that we tend to focus on.

      Question for you though: Where is Southwest Georgia Regional Airport located? Where are quite a few agencies and companies that call themselves “Southwest Georgia _____” based?

      If you guessed Albany/DoCo and Lee County, you guessed right! Don’t see ya questioning THOSE agencies though….

  19. That doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense, but nonetheless, I can see that y’all are the types who are going to have the last word on everything no matter what….so I’ll end this discussion here.

    I think I’ve made my point.

  20. If you go to night time only meetings you have to take into consideration the thousands (and I do mean thousands) of second shift workers who will not be able to attend. Hospital staff, police, retail, manufacturing and hundreds more occupations all work second shifts and you want to deny them the right to attend meetings just so it’s more convenient for you. It would also impact third shifters who are busy getting ready to go to work. Tsk Tsk Tsk trying to deny people access to their government. Their has to be a better issue to waste I mean spend your time on.

    1. That’s actually a much smaller percentage of the population.

      Of course, you seem more than happy waste – I mean spend – your time on this one 😉

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