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Commissioners vote to honor today

Unusual vote a protest of a story published by The Times

POSTED: October 24, 2013 11:11 p.m.

In case you were wondering, the five members of the Hall County Board of Commissioners really like today. So much so, in fact, that in Thursday’s meeting they passed a motion by Commissioner Craig Lutz to honor it.

Commissioner Billy Powell seconded the motion, and all commissioners voted in favor.

The unusual move to honor Oct. 25 was made as a form of protest by Lutz to show his displeasure with a story published in The Times pointing out that commissioners have recently taken votes on several items that don’t appear on meeting agendas.

The motion expressing the commission’s infatuation with today was not on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.

In making the motion, Lutz read a prepared statement chastising the newspaper for its story and putting forth the argument that when commissioners vote on such items it is to give direction to staff members rather than to take “formal” action.

In a story Sunday, The Times pointed out the votes included a motion Powell made at the July 25 meeting to suspend negotiations on an intergovernmental agreement with Lula and have the county instead build its own sewer system to serve an industrial development.

In the midst of ongoing specific negotiations over sewer between the county and Lula, Commissioner Jeff Stowe made a motion during his “commission time” on Sept. 12 to have county staff pursue “all sewer options” and report back at the Sept. 26 meeting. That discussion was not on the agenda. The county ultimately dropped discussions with Lula.

Commissioner Scott Gibbs made two motions not on the agenda at the Sept. 26 meeting. One was to direct staff to draft a request to local lawmakers to bring the Hall County Library System under county control, and the other was to waive fees for the 2013 Cattle and Heifer Show.

Gibbs was quoted in the story as saying most of the items handled in such a manner were insignificant.

But the board also approved on Sept. 26 a joint resolution introduced by County Administrator Randy Knighton between the county and Gainesville in which Gainesville agreed to support Hall’s application for $14.5 million in state funding of the Glades Reservoir project. Glades, which is estimated to cost about $130 million, is planned as an 850-acre reservoir in the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin of North Hall. That resolution was not on the agenda.

The Sunday article referenced information from the Attorney General’s Office that agendas have to specifically outline items expected to come up at a meeting. Items can be brought up that aren’t on the agenda if they weren’t anticipated in advance and are necessary to address. The story also quoted Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson as saying that in the specific votes taken the matters appear to have been expected ahead of time by at least one commissioner and should have been on the agenda.

“We take our jobs very seriously, and we take our responsibility to keep our readers informed very seriously. If we think the commissioners aren’t following the law, or are going out of their way to keep something quiet or secret, we’re going to let people know,” said Times publisher Dennis Stockton.

“The commissioners can make light of this if they want to, but the public deserves better. There’s nothing funny about it. People should know if the commissioners plan to take action on something that might involve them. If the county were considering a landfill for your backyard, wouldn’t you rather know in advance than find out they acted on it without it ever being on an agenda?” Stockton said.

In his statement Thursday, Lutz said all commissioners did was direct staff when voting on items not on the agenda, and that they could do so privately rather than in public.

Lutz also said The Times could sue the county if it felt the law was being violated.

Attempts to contact all the commissioners to ask if voting to honor days of the week is an appropriate use of their time as elected officials were unsuccessful, except for Lutz.

“I wouldn’t have made the motion otherwise,” he said.


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