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 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