City governments should not be allowed to function with smoke and mirrors. City government and its records must be open to its residents, and the full city council should be part of the decisions made for the city.
The city of Midway is not an open government. Its citizens are kept in the dark as decisions that affect of us are made without our input. Most of us are too busy to keep up with the city’s everyday operations, but that is why we elected a city council. On March 22, 2010, the council adopted a more stringent timetable for publishing its monthly agenda than is required by O.C.G.A. 50-14-1(2)(e)(1) , so that citizens can attend the meetings and address issues that might interest them. Mayor Clemontine Washington reaffirmed this timetable June 14, 2010. So far, this timetable has been met only once in the past 50 meetings as far as I am aware.
The city is not open to giving out information to its residents. According to McFrugal Rental of Riverdale v. Garr, 262 Ga. 369, a fee may not be imposed when a citizen seeks only to inspect records that are routinely subject to public inspection. However, a Midway resident must submit a Freedom of Information Act letter requesting documents and then the city will charge $22.04 an hour if it takes the city clerk more than 15 minutes to find the requested documents. That’s right — at that rate, the city clerk must earn $45,843 a year. Wow, I could hire a qualified clerk who could do just as good a job for half that salary.
Why does a resident of Midway have to go through all of this trouble to get information, such as minutes from city council meetings or a copy of the city’s budget? These documents should be made public and should be readily available at no charge except copying costs. After all, Midway residents already pay the city employees’ salaries. Why should we pay their salaries again? Maybe this is a way to keep the citizens in the dark.
We elected a city council to attend to city business. It is the council members’ responsibility to watch over the taxpayers’ money and oversee the operation of the city government. Yet the council members cannot get the documents that they need to do their jobs — jobs we elected them to do — without filing a FOIA letter and paying for the documents. Does Mayor Washington file FOIA letters and pay for what she needs?
Councilman Terry Doyle said he was charged $58.30 to research documents that he claims show the mayor may have failed to assign a charge of $295 to the correct account. Keeping tabs on city expenditures is a duty of the council. In addition, Doyle said, the mayor wants to charge him $111.58 to obtain past minutes of council meetings that he was not given.
Why do we have a city council if it isn’t allowed to participate in the governing of the city? I wonder what the city charter says on this matter. That’s right — I have to pay $22.04 an hour to have the city clerk locate and retrieve this important document that should be readily available.
Whose city is it anyway?
Calderone is a conservative who lives in Midway. He is a professional salesperson and for 30 years has written articles for trade publications in various fields.