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Lessons learned from Flovilla mayor

People make mistakes.

Elected officials make mistakes.

When an elected official makes a mistake, owns up to it and does those things necessary to try and fix it, that shows character, integrity, leadership and a true heart for public service.

That is exactly what one nearby elected official did this week when faced with the obvious fact that the state’s Sunshine Law had been violated by city government. 

Elected officials in Morrow, Lake City, Jonesboro, Forest Park, Riverdale, Lovejoy, College Park and Clayton County should pay close attention. 

When the local newspaper and its editor Mike Davis of the Jackson Progress-Argus, sister paper of the Clayton News Daily, pointed out what seemed to be a violation of the Georgia’s Open Meetings Act to the mayor of Flovilla, it likely did not sit well initially. 

However, the very next day, Mayor Scott Chewning told Davis the city had in fact unwittingly done something it should not do. 

That telephone call was a breath of fresh air. 

“If I mess up in a council meeting, I’ll always come back and say I messed up,” Chewning said Tuesday in a phone interview. “That’s what you’re supposed to do,” the Progress-Argus reported. 

The issues there in Butts County are not unlike challenges elected officials in Clayton County, and every other place for that matter, face as they work to strike a balance between true public service and the difficulty of doing complicated county or municipal business.

Sometimes elected officials unwittingly do things behind closed doors without intent, without subterfuge, without malice aforethought. 

Other times, the scoundrels are simply up to no good and they know it.

It is the job of a city, county or school board attorney to keep their clients out of trouble and in compliance with the law. 

In Flovilla, city leaders made a mistake by not having the city attorney present. They quickly realized the mistake and are trying to make it right. 

Any attorney who decides to practice local government law should understand that even though they are hired to represent their clients’ interests, their clients — those elected to office — are hired by the voters to represent citizens. 

Too many times it seems the legal counsel given to elected officials is more directed toward how to keep from leaving the perception of having violated the Open Meetings Act, rather than how to be in full compliance and bend over backward to be as transparent as humanly possible. 

— Editor Jim Zachary