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Commissioner: ‘Switching’ over public access was undeserved

Commissioner: ‘Switching’ over public access was undeserved

Commissioner: ‘Switching’ over public access was undeserved

Commissioner Roy Thompson


Commissioner Roy Thompson took 10 minutes of a Bulloch County Board of Commissioners’ meeting that fell on his birthday to react to a letter to the editor that criticized the commissioners.

The letter, by Dr. E. Ruth Green, appeared in Sunday’s Statesboro Herald. Tuesday was Thompson’s 68th birthday, and he asked “as his first wish” that Chairman Garrett Nevil allow him time to speak in the otherwise unused public comments period.

Thompson said he enjoys reading things in the newspaper, including the Soundoff column, the sports pages and items on the Viewpoints page.

But for a comparison to Green’s letter, Thompson recalled the sting of a switching he got when he was 4. He said it was probably the only switching or spanking his mother ever gave him, but he had on shorts and it stung.

“I got that feeling Sunday after I read this article,” Thompson said. “Switching is when you have done something wrong, but I got that same feeling and I felt like it was unwarranted that I, we, received a switching by typewriter.”

In her letter, Green observed that commissions and councils complain that the public does not attend their meetings, but that the meetings are often held when most people are at work or on their way to or from work.

Currently, the first commissioners’ first meeting each month is on the first Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The second meeting, such as this week’s, is on the third Tuesday at 8:30 a.m.

“I would like to ask this particular concerned citizen, or any citizen of the county, if there is a better time for us to meet, to advise us and let us take it under consideration,” Thompson said.

In her letter, Green wrote that at the last county commission meeting she attended, she spoke to commissioners about concerns she had, but received no answers.

“This is the part that that switching feeling came back to me. That burned a little,” Thompson said.

The meeting Green referred to was held May 21, Thompson said. He referred to her as a “concerned citizen” and not by name.

When Green had finished her questions at that much earlier meeting, Thompson tried to answer each of them, he said, and other commissioners made some comments, too. He recalled her questions as having to do with the industrial development project at the U.S. Highway 301/Interstate 16 interchange, bonds for a Georgia Southern University project, hiring policies at Great Dane and Development Authority salaries.

“I vividly remember telling that the (Development Authority) board is voluntary,” Thompson said. “They get paid nothing. If we double their salary today, they still get paid nothing.”

Minutes of the May 21 meeting occupy six pages. Thompson said he would be pleased if any citizen who asks for meeting minutes is given them.

“Are all the comments, periods and exclamation points in there? Probably not, but I would imagine if everything had been written, then there would have been — I don’t know — 12 or 15 pages,” he said.

Agendas and minutes of commission meetings are available online at http://bullochcounty.net.

In Green’s letter, she cited the section of the Georgia Open Meetings Law that prescribes how minutes are kept. The commissioners, she asserted, are doing what the law requires as the minimum, by recording motions, votes and other basic information.

She urged local governments to record meetings in full in audio or video and to make the recordings available to the public. An audio CD “costs pennies” she said, and could be provided through public libraries and other locations.

In fact, the county does make audio recording of the commissioners’ meetings, as Thompson pointed out.

But the possibility of an audio or video broadcast was considered when the meeting room was renovated and, he said, commissioners decided the equipment would be too expensive.

“We are committed to not raising taxes, and we felt like that was something we could put off for a while until the economy got better,” Thompson said.

He closed by saying that he appreciated the letter but that “the burning was less” after he responded in the meeting.

“If you say anything, that may even be constructive, they all take it personally,” Green said when phoned about Thompson’s remarks.

She said she had requested more detailed minutes or a recording from the May meeting from commissioners and their employees and never received what she asked for.

“Maybe the whole thing is on audio somewhere,” Green said, adding that she told a lawyer for the county she wanted the entire minutes on audio if they were not available any other way.

“He has never sent them to me,” she said. “He has never responded another thing. But he did say at that time, ‘Well, I’ll see, if it hasn’t been erased already.’”

One thing Green said she wished she had stated differently in her letter was to say that DVDs, not just CDs, would cost pennies, and that the commissioners could provide an audio and video record of their meetings at low cost.

Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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