MILLEDGEVILLE — When government officials meet in secret, the public good is seldom served. A prime example is the March 3 City Council discussion of bank deposits that occurred at City Hall without anyone from the public or news media present.
In this case, an audio recording of the meeting emerged three months later, letting citizens of Milledgeville in on the secret: that most councilors were mad at Chat Daniel, president of Century Bank, for writing a critical letter about them to this newspaper.
The retribution: transfer $5.1 million in city funds from Daniel’s bank to Wells Fargo Bank, and keep your mouth shut about the correlation between his letter and the moving of funds from Century Bank.
The letter to the editor that triggered the talk of retaliation had nothing to do with bank deposits. Daniel took the City Council to task for not supporting a referendum on the proposal to consolidate city and county government services.
City Manager Barry Jarrett said it is the “way we do business.”
Now, the council has launched an investigation into who taped the secret meeting. Councilor Denese Shinholster said the recording breached the integrity of the council and she wants to expose the person so she can “deal with it.”
The integrity of the council was indeed breached. Not by the audio recording but rather by the council itself when it met in secret. Who made the recording is immaterial. Not one cent of city money or time should be spent on an investigation into the legal public exposure of an illegal meeting of the council.
The defiant response from some councilors to the recording is not only troubling for its possible legal ramifications but it’s also telling of how the council views its constituents, the value they place in the public trust, government transparency and the office they swore to uphold.
A portion of the taped conversation suggested residents of Milledgeville — the very people who elected members of the council — cannot decipher truth and reality for themselves so keep them in the dark.
That’s a slam at voters. They can deliver a dose of reality by insisting on public business being discussed in public, and voting for councilors that embrace that spirit of open government.