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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