The Lumpkin County Board of Education’s decision to skip out on a public hearing last week was grossly irresponsible. It demonstrated a callous disregard for the citizens who voted them into office. There is also a question of the legality of the meeting since a quorum was not present.
The hearing was conducted Monday, Aug. 13 and was advertised in the local newspaper as a public hearing on a tentative tax increase. Public hearings afford citizens the opportunity to speak on a particular issue and they have every right to expect their elected officials will listen.
School board members failed spectacularly to meet that expectation when they scurried into a backroom and allowed Superintendent Dr. Robert Brown to conduct the hearing in their absence.
Asked about the board’s refusal to listen to the citizens, Brown mistakenly stated, “The board is not required to be present. (Public hearings) are for the superintendent to receive comments from the public.”
Public hearings are informational. Their purpose is for citizens to become aware of what their elected officials are doing and for the elected officials to become aware of the public’s sentiment. That awareness is destroyed if elected officials refuse to listen to the people. It causes citizens to wonder if their trust in their representatives has been misplaced.
School board member Craig Poore took to Facebook over the weekend to blame the local media for disseminating “misleading information” and “ill-informed citizens” for not understanding the board’s actions.
In defending the board’s refusal to hear public comments last week, Poore said, “Monday during the hearing we were in executive session and had further business to attend to so we sent our representative to the meeting to report back to us.”
That excuse does not pass the smell test.
Every other school board in the state of Georgia is capable of holding an executive session and public hearing on the same night. They simply open the public hearing, listen to the citizens, close the hearing then go into executive session. It’s not that difficult.
Poore continues his Facebook rant by suggesting citizens, “Come by the tire store and sit down with me let’s talk about the issues, or call me, email, or just stop me in Walmart. Hey that’s my job it’s not going to bother me.”
He also states: “What we need as a community is options to offset tax revenue loss.”
No, Mr. Poore, what we need is a school board whose members don’t run and hide from citizens who wish to speak to them at a public hearing.
DAHLONEGA, Ga. – Public hearing or public embarrassment?
The Lumpkin County School Board advertised for a public hearing and invited citizens to speak about a tentative tax increase last Monday then declined to listen to a single word they had to say.
Four of the five board members were present when the work session started. Mera Turner was absent. But before the public hearing started, the four disappeared into a backroom and did not emerge until the public hearing ended.
Superintendent Dr. Robert Brown conducted the public hearing, despite the fact that a quorum was not present. Three speakers rose to be heard in a room absent of their elected officials
Questioned about the highly unusual situation Brown defended the board. “The board is not required to be present,” he said. (Public hearings) are for the superintendent to receive comments from the public.”
Some would argue that public hearings are for citizens to address their elected officials and for those officials to consider what the citizens have to say.
Dahlonega Mayor Sam Norton said, “It doesn’t make much sense for your elected officials not to be there for a public hearing. It defeats the purpose. The reason for you to have a public hearing is to gather public input. It’s an information opportunity not only for the public to be aware of what you’re doing but for you to be aware of public sentiment.”
In a Facebook posting Saturday, school board member Craig Poore said, “Just because I was not at one meeting does not mean that community input was not important to me. Monday during the hearing we were in executive session and had further business to attend to so we sent our representative to the meeting to report back to us.”
But that does not pass the smell test.
School boards, county commissions and city councils all across Georgia routinely hold public hearings on the same day as executive sessions. They simply open the public hearing, listen to citizens’ comments, close the public hearing then go into executive session. It is not that difficult. Monday’s public hearing lasted only about half an hour.
Poore continued his Facebook rant by inviting citizens to “Come by the tire store and sit down with me let’s talk about the issues, or call me, email, or just stop me in Walmart. Hey that’s my job it’s not going to bother me. I always appreciate people taking interest in our schools and children.”
One county official who asked not to be named said the meeting was not a legal meeting because no quorum was present when the public hearing was held. If he is right, any action taken at the meeting can be rescinded, and fines could be imposed on the board as well as the individual members.
The same official added, “I’ve seen these things done right and I’ve seen them done wrong. Sometimes they get called out on them but most of the time they just keep on moving and no one knows the difference. I don’t think that is right.”
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DAHLONEGA, Ga. – In the aftermath of the shooting that killed 17 students and faculty in Parkland, Florida, and threats to “shoot up” schools in White, Dawson, Hall, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties last week, an anxious community filled the meeting room at the Lumpkin County School Board office Wednesday to discuss the only item on the agenda: school safety.
School Superintendent Dr. Rob Brown opened the meeting by saying, “School safety is the first consideration in every decision we make. We want to have an open conversation to include thoughts and ideas from everyone.”
In the two hours that followed, parents, teachers, law enforcement officials, school counselors, social workers and representatives of city and county government participated in a free-wheeling, constructive dialogue. The overwhelming sense of purpose that filled the room was “not-in-my-schools.”
Ideas that were explored included installing additional video monitors and metal detectors, locking all doors and having one single entry point, manned guard shacks at all schools as a first-line of defense and being more diligent about getting troubled kids help or getting them out of school.
Sheriff Stacy Jarrard said, “Every measure you put in place is a good measure. The more stringent they are the better.”
Georgia Mountain Education Charter High School Assistant Superintendent Tracy Sanford said, “There is no foolproof plan.” However, he cautioned school officials not to limit their attention to guns. He pointed out that the shooters who killed 13 people and injured 20 others at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 intended to use a bomb to blow up the school. He said the next tragedy could be a truckload of fertilizer driving into a school building.
Sanford praised the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office: “As you all know, I work with 15 counties and their SROs (school resource officers). I guarantee this is by far the best and easiest to work with in north Georgia.”
Arming teachers is an issue that has sparked heated debate at the national level. Four of five Lumpkin County School Board members said they are open to the idea if a teacher is willing and has extensive firearms training. Only Craig Poore did not support the idea.
Brown said mental health issues have been at the root of many of the active shooter incidents the nation has experienced over the last couple of decades.
He said the school staff has been proactive in trying to address that issue. “Our social worker and school counselors have been offering a Parent Education Night since last spring to address an issue that is very, very important when we talk about school safety,” Brown stated.
Brown commended school social worker Joni McElwaney. “She works directly with families to ensure they know what community resources are available to them. She is usually the first one our administrators contact when they know there is an issue with a child, especially if there is a mental health concern,” the superintendent added.
The school board is expected to review the ideas presented and begin to implement some, or all, of them as soon as possible.
Another recommendation was that schools become more diligent in getting rid of students who cause trouble. Board member Mera Turner said state law makes that issue extremely difficult for educators to address. State law requires that every student be given a public school education until they reach the age of 18, or 21 if they are in a special education program.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com