For those of us who are elected leaders, our primary function is to govern – a public trust to do what is right. Yet, governance does not work when 2 things are present: conflict of interest or concentration of power. As an educator, I emphasize this with my college seniors when we are studying establishing board of directors at public companies. The recent action by the Douglas County Board of Commissioners (BOC) would be a perfect case study of when one of those principles are in effect, poor decisions can occur, i.e. concentration of power or the downside of partisanship.
All 159 counties in GA have been responding to the requirements of the new “Open Meeting Act” passed by the General Assembly. For example, making sure minutes from various meetings such as work, legislative, special and executive sessions were documented and enabled public inspection where appropriate. In Douglas County case, a review of the county’s current charter revealed that its practices were in conflict and in violation of the new Act or law.
First, the county’s charter (amended in 1997) clearly outlines that district commissioner expense reimbursements are required to be signed off by the “entire” or all the commissioners, including the chairman. Second, according to county policy the BOC is required to “approve” the expenses in an open meeting. Neither has ever occurred since January 2009. If one applies the broader Open Meeting Act, the BOC is not in compliance with the transparency required because the current practice of expense “approval” occurring outside of an open meeting can be interpreted as an “illegal” meeting seeing the expenses are not known and must be reviewed before being approved.
So, a Democrat, sponsoring this legislative change and even running it through the finance committee purposed to clean up this clear violation of law and make other historical text adjustments to bring the county into compliance. The approach was inclusionary in nature where all members of the BOC provided input (vice chair set the dollar adjustment) and showed no objections nor when presented to its General Assembly local delegation twice.
Now back to the principle of bad governance. In light of plenty of time to amend legislation that would perhaps avoid the appearance of need for an Attorney General’s action or IRS inquiry into our practices, one would think this would pass on its merits alone. Further, surely the warning or advisement from an internal auditor or county attorney should help guide or shape decisions to do the common sense thing. If one read the resolution that was defeated, it was not complicated. But, the concentration of power in one party (Republican) overrode action to mitigate liability exposure and continue with the “we are above the law” ideology.