Brown: Lack of transparency by county leaders

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We have open meetings and open records laws in the state of Georgia to protect citizens from government abuse. The taxpayers pay the government salaries and expenses and they are entitled to know exactly what is happening within the halls of our local and state governments.

I can assure you that there are times when government attempts to conceal misdeeds and wrong-doing. There are instances when government staffers attempt to conceal corruption and dishonesty from their elected officials and vice versa.

There are moments of pressure and intimidation in government to keep certain complaints from employees or elected officials out of the public spectrum. There are moments when some are rewarded for holding or suppressing information and times where there is retribution, or the fear of such, regarding speaking out.

Public exposure gets uncomfortable. People start to squirm when things go public.

We have seen criminal convictions in metro counties and the city of Atlanta. There are now accusations flying about regarding our regional government, the Atlanta Regional Commission.

When I give government documents that are subject to the open records law to the news media or citizens, it’s because I believe something is wrong. I do not expect local officials and implicated staff members to be overjoyed.

I have been handing government documents to the news media for years. There have been a couple of times where I had to elevate my disclosure and cooperation to the state level to put an end to some local government debacles such as the water quality crisis, the county administrator not acknowledging public works contracts in public meetings as state law requires (O.C.G.A. 36-10-01) and disruptive behavior concerning voter fraud in the home of someone on the Board of Elections.

Perhaps the worst part of government dysfunction is when elected officials either condone, cover up or even participate in corrupt or dishonest practices. To the employees who look the other way out of fear of losing their jobs, I express my empathy, but I will not show any favor to such behavior.

For years, the county government was operating under an extremely loose set of policies and procedures that not everyone in the county government, elected officials included, had full access to.

I have duly cited experiences in meeting minutes over the years where the county administrator has significantly overstepped his bounds. How commissioners have responded to these incidents since 2013 has concerned me deeply.

A straw man argument was created by the county administrator to say he only had to share information with the chairman of the Board of Commissioners and that he could act on behalf of the Board with only the chairman’s permission.

As expressed in his employment contract, the county administrator is contractually bound to the entire Board of Commissioners and is obligated to keep all commissioners fully informed on all issues whether the chairman decides to communicate or not.

The county administrator even attempted to create government procedure without the authority of the commissioners giving him the ability to grant additional paid holiday time for employees and himself.

I have deep concerns over county employees in unbearable working conditions. On several occasions, the affected employees actually had to raise their distress in a public Board of Commissioners meeting and it was the first time the commissioners were made aware of the situation.

It is utterly embarrassing when local citizens or low-ranking employees have to make government wrong-doings, misdeeds or crisises known to the Board of Commissioners.

Note that I have welcomed the addition of Commissioner Charles Rousseau who has been of great assistance in peeling back some of the abuses. He has been a colleague who will not only discuss the offenses, but also act. I also note our Chairman, Eric Maxwell, has done a fine job promoting fairness and openness in our meetings.

To my colleagues on the Fayette County Board of Commissioners, the public is going to see what we are made of in the coming months. We all signed off on the values statement in the back of our meeting chambers. I have expressed my concerns about the Board’s ability to follow it in the past.

Are we going to stand behind the open meetings and open records laws? Are going to stand for government accountability and fight abuses of power? Let our citizens be the judge as we address such issues in the coming months.

Steve Brown
District 3, Fayette County Commission
Peachtree City, Ga.