0

All personnel policy must be discussed in open meeting

Public policy is the business of the public and all public policy discussions must take place in public.

Period.

Personnel policy is public policy.

Personnel policy deliberations must take place in public.

Wait a minute, perhaps we were not clear enough.

Let’s try that again.

Personnel policy deliberations must take place in public.

There is nothing difficult to understand here.

If elected officials are going to discuss policy and procedure they cannot go into executive sessions to talk about it.

The executive session privilege for “personnel” does not pertain to policy.

In order to trigger an executive session for the personnel privilege, the council, commission or board must be convening to discuss a particular employee and not policy.

For example, talking about job descriptions is a matter of policy.

An organizational chart or the overall structure of city or county offices are matters of policy.

Who answers to whom at city hall or the courthouse is policy.

Whether or not to create or fill a position is policy.

Raises for all employees is policy.

All such discussions must take place in open public meetings.

That’s the law in Georgia.

If elected officials have had these or similar discussions behind closed doors they are breaking the law.

If city and county attorneys are telling them these are personnel issues and they can talk about such things in executive session they are giving their clients bad advice.

If an employee has a medical condition or personal problem and is unable to do his job and the legislative body wants to discuss how they should handle the situation with that particular employee, that is a personnel issue that the state of Georgia says can take place in an executive session.

If an employee files a grievance against another employee then an executive session can be triggered for that discussion, but even then elected officials cannot receive evidence in the closed-door meeting.

They must receive any evidence out in the open.

You see, while the state allows executive sessions for certain personnel issues, it is very specific and restrictive.

The purpose of those executive sessions is not to conceal the people’s business, but rather it is to protect the privacy of an individual.

Senior assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter has said he believes local officials abuse the personnel privilege with great frequency.

We agree with him, but we would also add the AG’s office needs to now prosecute these cases and put a stop to the abuse.

When elected officials hide behind closed doors, they are disrespecting voters, abusing their powers and failing to live up to their obligation to do the people’s business out in the open.

It does not matter whether or not they believe what they are discussing is “sensitive.”

They do not have the right or the power to make that call.

It does not matter if they think they have followed the city’s charter.

A city charter cannot circumvent state law.

Politicians like to talk a lot about transparency, telling everyone they understand both the law and their duty to the public.

However, talking about being transparent and being transparent are two very different things.

The public wants to know what their elected officials are doing at all times.

Ignoring the public is one thing.

Ignoring the law is yet another.

You ignore the public and you are likely to get voted out of office.

The previous administration proved that point in the last election.

When you ignore the law you can be hit with a hefty fine that you must pay out of your own pockets.

The more important issue is the public expects, and deserves, better.

— Editor Jim Zachary