Passing judgment is really easy after the fact
I t is easy to sit on the sidelines and take cheapshots at folks without admitting there are always at least two sides to any issue.
Last week we got aggressive with the leadership of the City of Magee. In our opinion the issues we discussed of some of the leadership’s decisions, their lack of action in some instances, and their failure to follow an open meetings policy were well founded. We are sure they probably disagreed.
It is easy to look at a situation in retrospect and make summary opinions. However, as a situation is unfolding those decisions are not always so clear.
I think part of the reason for back room meetings, one of the issues we criticized last week, is to allow for open discussion without having to justify what is said. That doesn’t sound so bad at face value. The real problem is that such meetings are not legal. Any time more than two elected officials meet to discuss business, the proceedings are supposed to be open to the public.
Participants actually do not have to be elected officials. They may be appointees representing politicians. Any business discussion of any public body is supposed to be open to the public. Committees should follow the same open meeting laws and rules as elected officials. This includes giving notice in writing about meetings. They can be posted, for example, on a bulletin board like the city has.
A new law in effect requires entities to notify members of the media of meetings if they have requested notification. This paper has requested to be notified. On a couple of occasions we have received notification. But the city forms committees for much of their work-- the Airport Committee, the Budget Committee, Police Committee, the Insurance Committee and the list goes on. They do not meet as a board but they make recommendations to the Board of Aldermen, and the aldermen approve them. Many times the board does not detail what is being discussed. Why? It is easier to talk behind closed doors than to keep people informed, and board members do not have to line out the details of a deal that is being struck.
So what came of the issues that were discussed in the paper?
Last Wednesday, city crews were working all over town making improvements. Trash piles that had lined the roads were picked up by city employees. Property adjacent to the railroad was cleaned.
The city removed a fallen tree between the Methodist and Baptist churches in town that has been there for months.
We mentioned a big development deal the city had been working on. It came to fruition at the former Magee Elementary campus. Headstart acquired the property and plans are in the making for having a functional campus next year. This may be one of the best deals for the city of Magee in years. A former eyesore is being maintained, and some jobs are being created. All in all, as the mayor would put it, this is a “Good Program.”
It is my honest conviction that our elected leaders in Magee have the honest goal of wanting to do what is right and what is best for the community. The problem is that they do not always go about it correctly.
They do not intend to do things improperly, it just happens when they get in a hurry to accomplish something. But information is available on how things should be done legally. The newspaper offers a synopsis of public meeting laws adopted by the legislature. Copies have been provided to Mayor Dale Berry as well as the city attorney. Additional copies are available, and they have been provided in the past to interested parties.
I suppose we are too simple. We offer a copy of the guidelines and request that they be followed, and in most cases they are.
The county Board of Supervisors is a perfect example. For the most part they handle issues as they surface at meetings unless a decision requires additional information.
The supervisors may have a closed meeting, but they have reasons for doing so, and they follow procedure when they do. They announce the outcome of their meeting. They do not openly try to evade open meetings requirements.
Unfortunately, when you challenge leadership, it has a tendency to anger them along with producing hard feelings. On occasion you get a written response through a letter to the editor. The board attorney for the city is well skilled in this.
The good news, though, is that Mayor Berry is not one to let emotions get in the way of business. We needed help with an issue recently and he was perfectly willing to help. Not many people are so accommodating, though that is part of the job. Mayor, you do have a “good program.”