This is the way I see it. By Emily Lewy
Chairman John Raber’s efforts to completely control county government continue with each appointment. He seems confident that appointees will bear allegiance to him instead of the residents and taxpayers of Lumpkin County.
Unfortunately, some of his appointees were not as happy to have the position as he was to give it; and, they don’t attend the meetings. To resolve the matter, Raber wants a full attendance review of all county appointees.
Following Raber’s Work Session diatribe about the need to review attendance records of appointees, Reporter Sharon Hall of The Dahlonega Nugget asked when he planned to call a meeting of the Blackburn Park Committee that he appointed last October.
Chairman Raber assured the reporter and everyone else that there was no need for that committee which he chaired to meet since there were no funds to do anything. Reporter Hall responded, “but what about the trails grant that will be coming up in April?”
At that point, in what appeared to be an effort to redirect the discussion, Raber began to talk about Yahoola Park grants.
The confusion was so obvious that Finance Director Allison Martin spoke up stating that there was a grant for trails in Blackburn Park that would be heard from in April.
The audience had a unique opportunity to see just how Raber operates when he responded, “I have met independently on that with members of the committee. Stan and I have talked about it a hundred times. Casey, we have talked about this many times.”
County Attorney Casey Horne then spoke up, “When you use grant money, you are not able to use the property for anything else for a number of years without paying a penalty. By accepting a grant you are “poisoning” the property for other uses.”
As soon as he was allowed to speak, Commissioner Tim Bowden, the only other commissioner appointed to the Blackburn Park Committee, said, “The Blackburn Park Committee was formed more than five months ago and we have not met yet. When are we going to meet?” Raber replied, “The Blackburn Park Committee has met; I have met with each of the members individually, just not with you.” Bowden replied, “Meeting with individual committee members is not a committee meeting.” Raber responded, “Well that’s just your opinion.”
Let’s consider several issues that need further elaboration:
- When a committee is created by a vote of the BOC, does the chairman of that committee have a duty to announce a time and date and call the meeting to order in a public forum? You would think so. Surely the BOC would want a different chairman appointed if the first chairman refused to carry out the mission of that committee.
- Does the Commission Chairman have the authority to talk independently with individuals and announce a committee position when the members have never met to discuss the issue with each other? Not according to Open Meetings laws of the State of Georgia.
- Can a decision of any committee withstand a challenge when there has not been timely public notification of the time and date when the meeting would take place? Not according the Open Meetings law. The people have an absolute right to be present.
- Is a discussion between the Chairman and the County Manager a substitute for a discussion of the issue by elected County Commissioners in a Work Session? Not according to the enabling legislation of the Lumpkin County Commission. Issues are required to be discussed by commissioners in a public Work Session before a decision is officially voted on during the public monthly Commission Meeting.
- When County Attorney Casey Horne describes a decision to accept a grant as “poisoning” the land, he is offering a personal opinion instead of a legal opinion. While it is true that accepting a grant for trails requires a commitment to maintain those trails for a period of time, this is one of the best ways to guarantee the property will be protected.
This really gets down to the nitty gritty. Anyone who describes the acceptance of a grant as “poisoning” the land is deeply motivated to prevent acceptance of that grant.
Raber, Horne, or some unidentified person or persons appear to have other plans for the park property. We have already seen proposed plans to flatten the land destroying the lake and the vegetation to create ball fields. Raber’s Blackburn Park Committee is made up of Raber, Commissioner Bowden, the principal of Blackburn Park School, one member of the public and several county employees. You would think control of that group would be a slam dunk for a control freak like Raber.
Will residents demand that the BOC represent the interests of all residents? Or, will we and our commissioners just sit around and whine as John Raber ignores the law and gets away with being a sole commissioner?