Shame on city, county for not working together

Published 8:57pm Friday, November 29, 2013

The working relationship between Decatur County and the City of Bainbridge is fractured, close to being irreparably harmed. The depth and extensiveness of an Open Records Request sent to the county from the city this week clearly shows the level of distrust, discord, and animosity between the two governmental bodies.
The 16-page request for records, sent to the county Tuesday afternoon by the law firm Smith Welch Webb & White of McDonough. on behalf of the city, is thorough, extensive and absolutely within the law. The request asks for, among other things, financial history for practically every department operating within the county organization.
Nothing asked for in the request is exempt from public knowledge and everything in the request requires public disclosure by the Georgia Open Records law. The county is mandated, by state statute, to provide the requested information to the city’s attorneys within three business days.
However, why did the city feel the need to hire, and pay for a lawyer to create and send this request? This request stems from the failed Local Option Sales Tax allocation negotiations. When these negotiations reached a point that no amount of local back-and-forth would yield a resolution, the next step would be legal action in Superior Court.
But when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in October that this type of dispute resolution between cities and counties is unconstitutional, the legal option in Superior Court went away.
Why does the city feel the need to continue using lawyers, at much expense to taxpayers? The answer to that question lies in the lack of a good working relationship between the two bodies. It’s a shame.
During the county commission meeting last Tuesday night, this records request was described, multiple times, as “intrusive.” In our view, a poorer choice of words could not have been made. No request of public records dealing with the use of public funds, no matter how “onerous,” as it was described, should be considered intrusive. Non-intrusiveness is a basic cornerstone of open government, but that has not always been the case with the county’s treatment of open records.
The Post-Searchlight has dealt first-hand with lax, incomplete and a less-than-serious approach to responding to open records requests by Decatur County. Responding to this request will utilize much time, energy and effort from county staff. Resources that could have been used serving Decatur County residents, many of whom are also Bainbridge city taxpayers, will have to be spent gathering the information.
We urge both the City of Bainbridge and Decatur County find a way to move past the obvious differences, obvious distrust, and obvious bad feelings to work for the people of Decatur County, which includes Bainbridge. Enough money has been wasted fighting for LOST dollars, now is the time to come to an agreement and work for the people.

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