Closed Door Meetings Are a Necessity


I don’t blame Gordon Jackson, honestly. He’s in a situation where he’s doing the work of a couple of people, as so many are in this day and age. In fact, if the Paper of Record doesn’t hire a replacement for Taylor Cooper come football season, Gordon may be doing three jobs as I’ve seen him covering ball games in recent years, too.

Gordon has for a number of years been the PoR’s reporter covering goings-on in the city. With the recent departure of Taylor Cooper for much greener pastures, it seems he has assumed the work of covering the county, as well.

Which means it’s got to grind his gears when the county commission calls a meeting and then disappears for six hours only to emerge and not say anything.

When I say I don’t blame him, I’m referring to the fact that his recent reporting in the series of executive session-style meetings the commission has been having seems to reflect a lack of questions or a lack of desire to write non-answers to questions. I will say, though, that we need those answers, as frustrating as they may be to write. We at least need to know the questions have been asked.

One of the things people are saying to me about all the meetings is how suspicious they are about “closed-door” meetings. I know. Comes with the territory here in the Golden Isles. And I’m always a fan of erring on the side of suspicion of government anyway. However, I think this situation is a little different.

Right now the county is down two vital positions: county manager and police chief. Though we have very capable people filling in in those positions, there’s still a need to fill those positions with haste. The current commission came into power with a lengthy agenda and a desire to achieve things in a speedy manner. Couple that with the stinging blow of the loss of the SPLOST in March, and you see a commission acutely interested in making its mark.

It’s hard to do that with one of those two positions unfilled by a permanent leader, much less both of them.

When people see the commission go into executive session, they immediately think of people lighting up cigars, patting each other on the back, and making shady deals. It’s not a fair assumption. We’ve been told the executive sessions are due to personnel issues and the two I named are the biggest personnel issues we face, so while I have no knowledge at all that this is the reason for the closing of the doors, I expect we’ll find out soon that that was the case. They can’t conduct the initial phases of either of these two searches in public. They’re not legally allowed to.

Some of you don’t like that, I know. Some of you share my basic sentiment, which is that we pay the salaries of the people the commission is dealing with behind closed doors, therefore we should be allowed to know anything and everything about the search and anything else they do.

But we can’t, and that’s not the commission’s fault; it’s the law. While I’m a big fan of government transparency, in this case, any problems with the closed-door meetings needs to be taken up with the courts or the legislature or both. The commission is just following the law.

The last time I spoke to any of the county commissioners, my understanding was that when they narrowed the position of police chief down to three candidates, they would unveil them publicly and let the people voice their opinions. Of course, that also means people will be furiously googling these individuals to see if there are any skeletons in their closets. But you know what? That’s only fair. And it’s one of the good things about the internet. Furthermore, my understanding of the process for chief was that the unveiling would be happening soon. I would be willing to bet this flurry of meetings was aseries of interviews and discussions about the final three. But I don’t know.

Why don’t I know? Partially because the reporting on the story in the PoR is lacking that bit of information. Here’s where you say, “But Ryfun, if they’re not legally allowed to say anything about it, how can that piece of information be included in the reporting?” That’s the flaw I was talking about earlier. IF the meetings are indeed about the chief of police or county manager positions, the commissioners can’t say, BUT whether or not the reporter HAS ASKED about whether the meetings are about either of those positions CAN be included in an article and would at least let us know that the issue was being addressed by the reporter.

There’s the very real possibility that he did ask, but since he wasn’t able to be given an answer he didn’t think it was worth recounting, but I’m going to say it right now: we need to know if he asked. As I mentioned, I’m not going to fault Gordon. He’s doing two jobs right now, maybe three in a couple of months. I’m also not going to fault the commission. They seem to be trying to do things the right way, which is appreciated. I only hope that the process is carried out fairly and with as much public input and government transparency as the law will allow.

Glynn County is poised to take another gigantic step forward, one of many we’ve taken in recent years. These two positions are crucial to our being able to do so successfully. I pray the commission do their jobs well.