Letter from the Editor; why the delay in articles and hope for good things in 2024

Published on 29 December 2023 at 12:47

As 2023 comes to a close, I want to thank all of you who read and support the Washington Wilkes Informer. There has been a pause in new articles as I have had trouble in obtaining open records documents I have requested, beginning in early December from the city administrator, city clerk, mayor, and city council. I was planning to provide an update on the ethics complaints filed in 2023 that there has been little to no mention of a resolution to, at the city council meetings. I am also working on an article regarding utility deposits and the additional deposits paid for reconnection. All this information is subject to open records law which states it is to be made available within three business days. It has been nearly a month since I requested this information and have still not received it. I will provide more details of this when I do get the documents and write the investigative article. In the meantime, if you or someone you know has paid additional deposits for utility reconnection and are willing to share your experience, please contact me. If you do not want your name mentioned in the article, you can remain anonymous.

 

I sincerely hope that the new mayor and council will take transparency and the laws that allow citizens to know what is happening in government, seriously. Mayor Elect Bruce Bailey, publicly stated multiple times during the election that it has been very easy for him to obtain records. That is how it should be. I hope he will agree that the same process should apply to everyone who requests records. There should be equal treatment for all and equal protection for information that is not to be public. It would seem wise for every member of council and city or county employee to be very aware of open records and open meetings laws and known protocols for handling requests for information to ensure compliance with the law. The University of Georgia First Amendment Foundation has made the offer to provide education on this but that offer has been ignored. It seems inefficient to not know the law and continually have to consult with the city attorney, who charges by the hour, before complying with a request for records. The law isn’t complicated, turning down free education on compliance of the law doesn't seem in the best interest of the citizens of Washington-Wilkes. Here is an FAQ page on open records and open meetings law for anyone who is interested.

 

As a refresher, every single city and county board, commission and authority are required to announce publicly the date, time, and location of all of their meetings. There are more than 20 entities that fall under these requirements in Washington-Wilkes. At a minimum this information is to be made available at the meeting location 24 hours in advance of the meeting. The agenda is also to be made available BEFORE the meeting, also at least 24 hours in advance. These laws also include any non-profit that receives 33 1/3% of funding from the city, county, or state. The public is welcome to attend all of these meetings and all conversations must be had publicly unless they fall into the very few situations that indicate conversations can be had in a executive (closed) session. Even then, it a vote is taken on the issue discussed, it is to be taken publicly. I have tried to get this information so I can post it in the Washington Wilkes Informer but have not been successful. Again, this isn’t something any citizen should have to go hunting for. If you are a member of a board, commission or authority and would like to comply and help make citizens aware, please contact me with the dates, times, and location of your meetings so I can share it with the public.

 

I will continue working on investigative articles as well as trying to cover other events in the community in 2024. As always, we are blessed to have Richard Crabbe recording the city council meetings for the Informer and you can watch them on our YouTube channel. We will also publish birth announcements and engagement and wedding announcements. If you have ideas for stories, you think need to be covered or investigated, please let me know.

May Washington-Wilkes have a blessed, peaceful, safe and prosperous 2024. May all who work on behalf of the citizens have good health and the steadfast fortitude necessary to keep our city a place where all can thrive.

 

Michelle Chaffee

Editor Washington Wilkes Informer


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Comments

Angela Booker
4 months ago

Thank you for your continuous efforts to educate and inform us. 2024 will bring true accountability‼️