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Lack of transparency could sink Stockbridge ship: Public has right to know all its business

The public has a right to know.

Citizens of Stockbridge have a right to know.

Newly-appointed Mayor Mark Alarcon has been decisive, has already begun making a mark with bold leadership and the city council has shown unity in the aftermath of a year of tumult.

It is good to see city leaders working together.

It is good to see city business taking place at city meetings rather than endless strife and contention that was part and parcel of the former administration.

It is good to see an end to the endless sideshow.

It is good to see a mayor and council who appear to be proactive and who have ambitious plans for the city’s future.

The mayor has even said the plans he has laid out for infrastructure improvements, economic development and city events are just the “tip of the iceberg.”

His titanic enthusiasm for the city is refreshing after coming out of a sea of negativity.

Their vision may not be the vision of all citizens, or maybe even the majority of Stockbridge residents, but at least they have vision.

So there are some good things to say about this administration.

However, Alarcon, Mayor Pro Tem Richard Steinberg and council members Alphonso Thomas, Robin Buschman, Harold Cochran and Shirley Dabney need to work a lot harder when it comes to openness in government.

Merely saying you are transparent does not make you transparent.

We hope that a lack of real and meaningful transparency in government does not become the jagged iceberg to sink this governmental Titanic.

We are not saying we know Stockbridge city officials have violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

We are saying it is possible to skirt around the law, stretch the language of the law, find loopholes within the law and, while technically complying with law, still do citizens a disservice.

Executive sessions are the boondoggle of local government.

The city’s attorney is quick to say he would not allow any violations of the Act.

Then again, that’s what all attorneys would say about their responsibilities toward their clients.

City attorneys look out for elected officials to make sure they do not get themselves into trouble.

Who is looking out for citizens?

The question is not: Can Stockbridge City Council go behind closed doors into executive session to discuss real estate transactions, personnel issues or pending lawsuits?

The question is: Why do they go into executive session to discuss those things?

So the law allows it.

Does that mean they should do it?

It certainly does not mean they must do it.

Many city officials are under the misnomer they must go into executive session to discuss those and certain other pieces of business.

However, that is not exactly true.

Again, being allowed to do something does not mean you have to or you should.

Elected officials should always err on the side of openness — always.

If they are truly civic-minded and embrace the spirit of democracy, that is what they will always do.

For an example, Monday evening the mayor and city council hired City Treasurer David Milliron to be the city’s new administrator.

Milliron is a bright guy. He may do a great job. Only time will tell.

That’s not the point.

The point is the city council knew this would be a very controversial decision.

So what did they do?

They met.

They went into executive session behind closed doors.

They came back out.

They hired Milliron.

Point blank — that’s poor government.

Citizens have a right to hear the debate.

The public should be able to know the pros and cons of such an important decision.

On another note, Thomas needs to stop abstaining and vote city business up or down, while informing the public of his reasons for a no vote. Again, the public has every right to know.

Local government is not private enterprise. The council chambers are not a corporate boardroom. While the public likely wants their city operating in a business-like manner, the city cannot be operated as a business.

It is public.

Public means the opposite of private.

Executive sessions are private not public.

As an adjective, public means, “the people as a whole.”

As a noun, public means, “ordinary people; the community.”

All of the business the city council has to do is the business of the people as a whole. It is the business of ordinary people. It is the business of the community.

We want this mayor and city council to do well.

We believe they have the opportunity to accomplish great things for Stockbridge.

We encourage them to slow down and think about the veil of secrecy and to be open, commit themselves to actual transparency instead of just talking about it and to do the public’s business in public 99 percent of the time, with that 1 percent of executive session being reserved only for those very, very few things that are absolutely necessary.

Otherwise, we suspect this ship will sink in the next city election.

— Editor Jim Zachary

Comments

mzholiday 1 year, 3 months ago

THANK YOU!

When I point out the things that I know, and they know are improper, I have been called the "former disgruntled employee". And that's not the case. They know that I'm calling them out, and will continue to do so. I am a resident of Stockbridge,and they need to be reminded who is at the top of the Organizational Chart - CITIZENS!

THANK YOU!

I have recently asked for the job descriptions, pay scale to be attached to the 2013 Budget that was approved. The Ordinance, that was adopted by the City Council clearly states on page 5, paragraph 7 that these documents along with the Organizational Chart will be attached hereto.

Note: These documents were not attached when the budget was adopted in December, therefore the public was not able to question or discuss any of the postions or pay scale. They refused to hold a Work Session in January to discuss these items. They didn't release the Agenda until after 4pm on Friday, January 11th. They brought the budget back on January 14th to adopt again. They didn't publicize that the budget was being adopted, and they didn't hold a Public Hearing. They also didn't make the job descriptions or pay scale available to the public - again.

Now, they tell me, if I want to see documents that by their own Ordinance should be attached to the Approved 2013 Budget, I will have to pay them and the time for them to put them together in an Open Records Request WOW!

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flagman 1 year, 2 months ago

Citizens of Stockbridge, with the recent win of Chairman Tommy Smith defeating B.J. Mathis it has come to the surface the City of Stockbridge has recently hired B.J. Mathis as an Economic Development employee. The citizens of stocbridge should be OUTRAGED by this travesty of NEPOTISM. Citizens! be- aware of the political back scratching your members in the city of Stockbridge have perpetuated on the tax payers. Miss Mathis lacks all the credentials for this position. If it looks like a skunk, it smells like a skunk, it is a skunk. DEMAND your City Government for an explanation and hold all involved accountable!!!

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pjcabrel 1 year, 2 months ago

“DEMAND your City Government for an explanation and hold all involved accountable!!! So what? So, WHAT IS THE PRICE that an “elected, appointed or hired” government official/employee must pay for their malfeasance?
RESIGNATION? TERMINATION WITH SIX MONTHS PAY?

If WE THE PEOPLE want a prudent, efficient, effective and economical government; WE THE PEOPLE MUST DEMAND IT!

Folks, the time has come to DEMAND that our Henry County District Attorney, James L. Wright, III PROSECUTE “appointed, elected or hired” government officials/employees CRIMINALLY AND CIVILLY for their malfeasance.

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Cliff 1 year, 2 months ago

I agree in total with the comments of Flagman and mzholiday. I do not think the stockbridge residents nor some of the council are going to take this new hire lying down without making their concerns well known to the city government.***

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flagman 1 year, 2 months ago

Cliff, the citizens should DEMAND her REMOVAL, not bad for someone like B.J. Mathis earning about 80,000 DOLLARS as an (cough,cough) economic development officer, plus her pension from the Chairmanship!! keep covering for her ,Mayor and City Manger, you are next to be expusled by the MEDIA and THE PEOPLE. HELL NO!!!! MATHIS MUST GO!!!!!!!!! Her creditianials? are you kidding us! She has a GED and thats all!!! plus putting the county into financial ruin!!!!!!!

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hotdog 1 year, 2 months ago

Even though Sunshine Laws are in place, I wish that someone would look at Stockbridge High and encourage transparency when it comes to the academic and athletic fiscal spending.....some strange things going on under the principal's nose and he doesn't know or doesn't care

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pjcabrel 1 year, 2 months ago

Jim Zachary, GOOD FOR YOU! Too often, elected government officials erroneously believe that because they campaigned and were elected to represent us constituents that somehow or the other they are more intelligent or smarter or wiser than us constituents. Based upon my decades of observing the ‘elected’; they are not. Not even close. If anything they play "hide and seek" with "privileged knowledge" that they sequester for their own political if not financial gain.

That’s said, the most prudent if not the most honest policy that any elected municipal government body can adopt and put into practice is A STRAIGHT FORWARD, TRANSPARENT GOVERNMENT “OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE”, period. Regardless, if the discussion is whether to fire, hire or promote. Buy, sell or expand. The best policy is an open and honest policy for ALL of us to share in. For nothing more than the financial costs of an employment related lawsuit caused by personality conflicts that lead to low morale and divisiveness within a department is paid, not by the Department heads and the Commissions/City Council, but by us property owners and business owners.

Frankly, just because you campaigned and were elected to represent me in government does not translate into my abdicating my power to you. To the contrary; experience has proved, to me at least, that WE THE PEOPLE must maintain a tight grip on the reins that guide you. Else wise you go astray and get us into trouble that could have been easily avoided had WE THE PEOPLE, and the local news media, maintained a tight grip on the political reins.

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pjcabrel 1 year, 2 months ago

Reading the comments of my fellow commenter’s frustrated with our municipal government is just one of my reasons that I advocate “ONE AND DONE TWO YEAR” TERM LIMITS to apply to all legislative branch appointed/elected legislators, and “ONE AND DONE FOUR YEAR” TERM LIMITS TO APPLY TO THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH/CHAIRPERSON/MAYOR, regardless if they are appointed/elected. More so, none would be eligible to serve in their current position, ever again, period. Moreover the appointed/elected person would have to wait one full election cycle before seeking or being appointed to another seat in government, regardless. DEATH PROVES THAT NONE IS INDISPENSIBLE.

Therefore, to enable more citizens a reasonable opportunity to serve in our governance WE THE PEOPLE MUST DEMAND “ONE AND DONE” TERM LIMITS be incorporated in our United States Constitution, State Constitution and Municipal Charter.

“Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln.

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mzholiday 1 year, 2 months ago

It was clearly stated at the Work Session meeting that public comments, question and concerns would be addressed prior to the Council taking a vote on any item in question. The Henry Herald wrote an article about the new Public Comments at Work Session. Well, it was only a headline.

This Mayor, Council and City Administrator ignored all questions and concerns . Please find the link for the Work Session along with the questions and concerns that were raised on February 5, 2013.

http://cityofstockbridge.com/files/documents/City_Council_Monthly_Meeting_-02_5_2013-_2013_Work_SessionsMinutes_02-05-2013_065047.pdf

COUNCIL MEETING AGENDA CITY OF STOCKBRIDGE FEBRUARY 11, 2013; 6:00 PM PUBLIC COMMENTS Item # 7 - Vanessa Holiday - 708 Serene Way – spoke on the new employee manual. Item # 9 - Samuel Valme – 110 Jasper Drive – spoke on the new employee manual and also on the new MMCC Sunday rental rates.

The Clerk has not interpreted the Minutes correctly. The public comment that I made stated that citizens were given an opportunity to ask questions at the Work Session, and we were told that those questions and/or concerns would be addressed prior to the Council voting on those items. I specifically asked the question as to whether or not the new Sick/Vacation Leave policy was the same across the board for ALL employees. There was not answer from the City.

Mr. Valme also reiterated that his questions raised at the Work Session were not addressed. Again, there was not an answer from the City. Instead, the Mayor asked for a motion to adjourn.

So much for TRANSPARENCY. It was clearly stated at the Work Session meeting that public comments, question and con

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