OUR OPINION: The public's right to know
It appears we might have been wrong Feb. 23 when we called out the Clayton City Council on a vote held in executive session.
Tough to admit? Not in the slightest. Not for us. Not for a newspaper crusading for the public’s right to know what our elected officials are doing.
And especially not when it leads to the discovery of a confirmed violation of Georgia’s Open Meetings Act, i.e., Clayton City Council not keeping minutes of action taken during a workshop meeting.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the failure to keep minutes is not a big deal. If we had not investigated what we believed to be an illegal vote, the action taken Feb. 14 to close the Clayton City Council meeting to the public would be lost to the city’s history.
That vote closed the meeting so council members could discuss and approve the filing of an appeal in the Rabun County Water and Sewer Authority v. City of Clayton case, which Judge B. Chan Caudell decided in the authority’s favor on Jan. 26.
Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Colangelo made it clear to us that as part of her office’s mediation program she could not rule the vote illegal because the word “appeal” does not appear in the Georgia Open Meetings Act. As City Attorney Mitch Baker stated in his March 2 letter to the editor, the law is silent on that particular legal procedure. Both attorneys likened the filing of an appeal to filing discovery or motions.
However, those latter two actions take place before a verdict is rendered and only after a lawsuit has been filed. An appeal comes after a verdict, effectively restarting the legal process and kicking the case into another court. For that reason, we believe an entity governed by the Open Meetings Act should have to vote on the filing of an appeal in the public’s eye, just as the entity filing the initial lawsuit must do (in this case, it was the Water and Sewer Authority, with a 5-2 vote).
The Open Meetings Act is a living document. It can be amended; it can be changed to further protect the public’s right to know. And for this, we believe it should change.