Athens-Clarke County commissioners’ monthly work sessions are open to the public, but no official minutes are taken, and the meetings are not recorded or televised.
Supposedly, they are mere information sessions where county managers or departments present information to commissioners on which to base future decisions. But in practice, commissioners often make decisions during work sessions, even taking straw votes to determine a consensus, possibly in violation of the government’s own charter. These informal votes and directions to staff determine policies that, months later, are affirmed in an official commission vote at a televised voting meeting.
Such decisions made at work sessions—where no public comment is allowed, and no notice of specific upcoming decisions is given—have raised questions about transparency and due process. Local activists, as well as some commissioners, have been asking for the work sessions to be televised or at least recorded.
Commissioners have resisted televising the meetings because they prefer the informality of meeting around tables at the Dougherty Street building, rather than the court-like atmosphere of City Hall, but outfitting Dougherty Street with television equipment would be expensive.
“At the minimum,” activist Tim Denson told commissioners earlier this month, work sessions and committee meetings should have minutes taken and audio recorded. Denson and his organization Athens for Everyone have experimented with using the app Periscope to stream work sessions live over the Internet.
Commissioner Melissa Link said she agreed with Denson: “I feel like its essential that we get some kind of audio and video, even if we set up a GoPro camera and download the video and make it available… We definitely need greater transparency.”
Commissioner Jared Bailey has also said the work sessions should be televised.
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