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Our Views: Non-responsive council is losing all credibility

The Statesboro City Council received a visit from members of the Bulloch County TEA Party during each of its past two meetings. Appearing first on the agenda on Oct. 5 and also Tuesday, members of the TEA Party asked several questions about recent financial settlements the council voted to give ex-employees and how they reached several recent decisions.

With a "Thank you for coming" reply and nothing else after the Oct. 5 meeting, TEA Party member Heather Merritt described the response from council members as the sound of "crickets."

Not satisfied, and not going away, TEA Party members tried again at Tuesday's meeting. And while their questions were at least acknowledged by Mayor Joe Brannen, no member was forthcoming with any explanation for why the city settled, why Haynes was asked to resign or why the city is paying out huge sums in the face of tough budget decisions.

Brannen referred the questions to interim city manager Frank Parker, who said he would "address" the questions and get back to them.

No council member uttered a peep in response. Not Will Britt; not Tommy Blitch; not Gary Lewis. John Riggs was not present. Finally, near the end of the meeting, Councilman Travis Chance spoke directly to the TEA Party:

He apologized on the council's behalf for questions going unanswered and for not having better answers at the time.
"I know it's not much of an answer, but it's an answer," he said, promising to follow up on the issue with citizens who asked questions.

We agree with Chance that the citizens do deserve an apology for council members refusing to answer questions at an open meeting. But they deserve more. During the meeting, Georgia Southern University political science professor Debra Sabia listed basic expectations for the city council: transparency, responsiveness, inclusiveness and accountability.

During the past two council meetings, Bulloch TEA Party members Merritt and Blaine Olmstead offered members a chance to meet the bare minimum of the above expectations with responses to their questions. Something. Anything. Instead, they got nothing.

In fact, on all major issues decided in the past year or so, the council, as a whole, has not been transparent, responsive, inclusive or accountable.

At least Riggs took a small step in the right direction by playing host Sunday to a select group of constituents who came to a town hall-style meeting for District 4 residents. But only a relative handful of residents received invitations, he did not publicize the supposedly public meeting in any way to attract the public, and he offered nothing of substance during the meeting.

Riggs said Sunday he voted to seek Haynes' resignation because of the 50 residents he asked about it, 49, he said, wanted Haynes out. We wonder when he asked that question if he included the fact the council would have to pay Haynes $162,000 of taxpayer money to avoid a potential lawsuit. We doubt he did.

Still, at least he sought some input.

We applaud TEA party members and Sabia for being good citizens and demanding city council members be held accountable to the taxpayers they represent.

What we said last month remains true today: City government in Statesboro is in a state of disarray. It has no leadership, a city council that has no direction and is on empty when it comes to credibility.

Sabia laid out a solid blueprint for the council to begin regaining some credibility - transparency, responsiveness, inclusiveness and accountability in all its decisions. That blueprint needs to be adopted today.

 

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