APN Sends Letter to AHA on Open Meeting Concerns
(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Progressive News has sent the following letter to the Atlanta Housing Authority’s director Renee Glover, and has copied the Georgia Attorney General’s Office:
Dear Ms. Renee Glover,
I am writing inform you the Board of Directors of The Atlanta Progressive News has some serious concerns about the recent Regular Meeting of the Board of Commissioners on April 25, 2007, at the AHA Office (hereon referred to as the Meeting.).
We are deeply concerned about the way AHA has conducted this public meeting in terms of providing for citizen access and participation as a part of our cherished Democratic processes.
The Atlanta Progressive News (APN), a local newspaper and online news service, and the public were deprived of access to actually hearing the voting on all agenda items at the Meeting. As a news organization we have a special obligation to protect the public’s access to open meetings and open records.
Our concerns can be summarized as follows:
1. APN has interviewed several audience members and have learned no audience members were able to hear the voting on the Consent Agenda. That is, they lacked audio access to these what were apprently key components of the Meeting. As you should recall, when you and other Board Members came in, you spoke privately with each other for a few minutes. No one could hear what you were saying because you were not on microphone, you had not called the Meeting to order, and some audience members were chanting “Let the people speak!” I for one thought at first that during that time you were discussing with each other how to proceed. Then, the President Officer said you all were prepared to go to public comment at that time. Most people thought you had allowed the public to speak first as they had requested, but apparently, instead of discussing whether to let the people speak first, you were voting anyway with everyone unaware of it.
2. No one in the audience APN has interviewed realized that any voting had taken place until I personally asked you at the end of the Meeting what happened to the agenda items when you said the Meeting was adjourned, and you replied the Catalyst Plan had been approved. To this day, no one really knows what happened during those few minutes or really whether the votes were approved during that time period or even prior to when you all came downstairs. However, audience member Anita Beaty has told me she believes she heard one Board Member say “All in favor, say aye.” However, the fact no one knows for sure is troubling. Moreover, because the audience members lacked audio access to the proceedings, no one knows how each Member voted or whether there was any discussion.
3. When you made your presentation at the end of the Meeting you went on microphone. However, when the Board was (probably) voting, this was not done on the microphone. Therefore, microphones were available in the room for all portions of the Meeting, but were used selectively.
4. Public comment was originally scheduled for the end of the Meeting. AHA does not appear to be acting in good faith by scheduling its important votes prior to public comment period. By logic, there’s no way the public’s input can be considered in the Board’s voting decisions when they’re voting prior to the public input opportunities.
5. The Meeting appears to be in violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Act. The law requires public “access.” For the Board to vote quietly while some in the room were shouting–so no one can hear or comprehend what is happening, especially when microphones were available–is akin to voting by whisper, by secret note, or in Pig Latin. The Act states, “The public at all times shall be afforded access to meetings declared open to the public.” (OCGA 50-14-1 (c)).
I hereby request you, or an appropriate party you may appoint, to answer the following questions regarding the Meeting:
(1) Does AHA believe the public has a right to audio access to its Open Meetings?
(2) Whose decision was it to proceed with the voting even though no one could hear?
(3) Why were microphones used only during your presentation and the open comment portion, but not during the voting?
(4) Do you believe AHA is in compliance with the Open Meetings law in Georgia, even though no one could hear or understand the voting (when we believe the voting likely occurred), and why or why not?
(5) Would the AHA be willing to reconsider its practice of scheduling public comment sections at the end of its Meetings, so that the Board may consider the content of such comments prior to their voting?
PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST
Pursuant to the Georgia Open Records law, we hereby request copies of the official Minutes of the Meeting.
We are sending a copy of the Georgia Attorney General’s Office because they have a stated interest in preserving Open Meetings in Georgia.
Due to the urgency and importance of this matter, we request a prompt reply.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
President, Board of Directors, The Atlanta Progressive News
cc: Georgia Attorney General’s Office
About the author:
Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article may be reprinted in full at no cost where Atlanta Progressive News is credited.