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Protecting The Public’s Right To Know — By Tommy Purser

Kudos to Council Members Eric Griffin and John Ramay for standing up for the public’s right to know at last Thursday’s called meeting of the Hazlehurst City Council.

According to the article on the meeting written by freelance writer Mary Ann Anderson, Mayor Bayne Stone wanted to discuss the recent audit of city finances. But Griffin and Ramay pointed out it would be illegal to discuss anything other than what was on the agenda.

They were right.

It’s illegal because governing bodies can have a called meeting for, perhaps, merely voting to close government offices on certain days for certain holidays. That agenda is sent to the county’s legal organ and there are times when the agenda has one unimportant item and the newspaper people can just call later to find out what happened …. did they vote to close or stay open?

But in the past …. many times in the past …. elected officials across the state have set a called meeting for some innocuous purpose and then, when they gather for the meeting, change the agenda to discuss some controversial subject outside of the view of public scrutiny.

It happened to me several years ago with the County Commission. The commission set up a called meeting for some simple purpose, so simple that there was no need for me to attend as I could find out the information later from the County Clerk.

I found out later that, at that meeting, a crowd of people showed up to discuss a controversial matter that was not on the agenda. Rather than doing like Councilmen Griffin and Ramay did last week, the commissioners let them speak …. illegally.

I wasn’t there and the public …. other than the folks who showed up at the meeting …. could not be properly informed of what went on.

It’s okay to amend the agenda at a regular meeting because the public is informed about when and where that meeting is held and can be present to watch the proceedings. But on a called meeting, the public is not normally aware that the meeting is to take place.

At last week’s meeting, the subject Mayor Stone wanted to discuss was the recent audit of city finances. That is a subject of immense interest to the public so discussing it without the public knowing would be ….. well, you pick the adjective.

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