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.
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.
Snellville City Council, 2007-2011