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Former Snellville Councilman Responds to 'Illegal' Meeting With Officials

Tod Warner discusses how emergency meetings, such as the one held last week after the the city clerk was reassigned, do not require the typical public notice, as the mayor claims.

Editor's note: The following is a letter to the editor submitted by Tod Warner, a former Snellville councilman, regarding the recent controversy involving how some city officials held an unadvertised and illegal meeting last week.   

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Anyone that has any knowledge of my brief foray as an elected official knows that one of my biggest issues has been free and open government. You could call it transparency.  

Recently there was a report on a local television station about three City council members meeting with the City manager while another Councilmember waited in the hallway. Just for the record: Emergency meetings of Council do NOT require the typical public notice and this notice is typically handled by the City Clerk.  

According to the required training given to me as an elected official by the State of Georgia, not once but on multiple occasions, if a member of a body that could cause a quorum is not in the room, it does not constitute a quorum and therefore it is not an official meeting.  You can participate via phone or video chat and it would still not be a quorum unless a declared natural disaster prevented attendance in person.  City Council does not make the State law; they just have to live by it.  If the Mayor or anyone else has a problem with State Sunshine Laws, then they should work to have them changed.

Case in point, when I was on the Snellville City Council, state law changed and reports required pertaining to campaign and personal finance changed from being filed locally with the city clerk to being required to be filed online with the State.  There was a provision in the law meant for rural areas without Internet access to mail in their reports.  Mailed in reports were not available online since the State didn’t have the funds to have someone scan them into a computer.  

It turned out a couple of Snellville Councilmembers continually used this loophole in State law to effectively keep their required reports hidden from the public. The only way to see their disclosures was to go to downtown Atlanta and ask the State Ethics Commission office to see the reports, and then you had to pay for a copy.  I thought this was a bad misuse of the law and tried to get Snellville to require local filing of the documents so citizens could be guaranteed access to the information locally or via the internet as they had been prior to a change in state law.

When I couldn’t get action locally, I started speaking to State legislators about the misuse of the loopholes in campaign disclosure laws and asked them to close them.  Many legislators thought I was mistaken and I had to provide instances of local officials across the State hiding campaign contribution and expenditure reports. I am happy to report that this year State law once again requires local filing of campaign documents.  Never believe that you can’t make a difference. 

Another issue covered in the recent televised report was the removal of the Mayor’s unfettered access to the administration offices of the City of Snellville.  Originally all of Snellville’s elected officials had a key card that allowed access to all areas of City hall.  

It just so happened that at least one former City Councilman would go and visit offices when no one was around and was found going through restricted files.  Some files, such as personnel files, contain personal information that is not discloseable and, the City Charter requires all requests of city employees, whether a request for information or other action, must go through the City Manager, access to the second floor of City hall was removed before I was elected in 2007. As a matter of fact Mayor Oberholtzer didn’t have card access to the second floor.

For the exact same reasons of security and transparency, the current Mayor should not have unfettered access to all the information and personnel that is contained on the second floor administrative offices of the City of Snellville.  Frankly, I’m shocked that she had it in the first place.    

Tod Warner

Snellville City Council, 2007-2011

David Brown January 22, 2014 at 12:23 PM
John, in all fairness, Dave Emanuel did participate in the march. I was there. I spoke with him briefly.
Brenda Lee January 22, 2014 at 02:23 PM
Mr Canterbury, you might want to put down the shovel. Council member, Diane Krause posted on several public FB pages that she would not be able to attend any of the MLK events as she was suffering with the flu and did not want to share. Apparently the flu bug is not racist. Council-member Barbara Bender also posted her regrets because she has had recent foot surgery. Council members, Dave Emanuel and Bobby Howard were at New Jerusalem Monday morning. There are photos here on Patch. I believe that Councilman Howard walked from NJ to SUMC. Councilman Emanuel also publicly indicated that he had a business appointment and could not walk but as noted he did make the effort to show up, offer support and encouragement. Mayor Pro Tem Tom Witts meet the parade participants at SUMC and helped serve them lunch.
Rob Smith January 22, 2014 at 02:47 PM
Got a call the other day. Person said they thought John Canterbury sounded suspicious. Sure enough can't find him anywhere. Is not a registered voter in Snellville and can not find any one by that name in Gwinnett County records. My bet is it is a fake name and someone who is being investigated byt the District Attorney or is hiding behind it.
Michelle McGill Couch January 23, 2014 at 05:49 PM
The MLK event was a fine event for the city and I enjoyed it very much. I, as well as others were on hand to assist if we were needed. We were told that we were not. It is quite foolish to debate who was and who wasn't there. I feel absolutely certain that all council members would have attended if possible.
Kenneth Stepp January 25, 2014 at 06:14 AM
Rob. That's why I didn't answer him. No one is stupid enough not to see what the mayor is doing here. Just a fake tool.

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