FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Forsyth County has revised wording of an agenda item that may have left some residents scratching their heads a couple of weeks ago when it first came up.
At its July 18 meeting, the County Commission formally authorized a measure that sets an evaluation procedure to rate the county manager’s job performance. The process will include input from a number of key government and non-government sources.
Last Thursday’s action, approved with no discussion, follows two previous votes on the same topic. However, neither of those earlier votes — one June 25 and another July 11 — included an explanation of what it was commissioners were voting on.
Rather, the item up for vote read: “Board authorization to implement the action discussed at the June 20, 2019 Executive Session.”
Under Georgia’s Open Meetings Law, governing boards may only discuss a handful of topics behind closed doors. These topics include the acquisition, sale or lease of property; matters pertaining to personnel; and attorney-client consultation on legal matters. A decision reached in closed session is not official until it is voted on in open session.
By not disclosing details of the topic when it was formally adopted in open session, the board left residents to wonder what it was that had just been approved, said Richard T. Griffiths, president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.
“There is no excuse for county commissioners to come out of a closed session, an executive session, and then vote to implement something that they don’t describe to the public, as to what it is they’re implementing,” Griffiths said.
He called such a vote invalid.
“They may have voted in the open, nobody knew what the heck they were voting on, so that does not meet the requirements of the law,” he said.
The latest vote added more of an explanation.
County Attorney Ken Jarrard said the board’s first vote on June 25 was to authorize the informal direction given during a June 20 closed session. The action, he said, was undertaken at his urging to ensure the county adhered to “rigorous limitations on actions that can be taken by a governing authority in a closed meeting.”
That direction, still undefined publically, was formally approved again on July 11.
Jarrard said the action ratified was interim guidance and was approved in open session in abundance of caution and pursuant to his belief in the significant limitations on closed session action.
The third approval July 18, which spelled out the specifics, was placed on the consent agenda and approved without discussion.
“Forsyth County has been and remains committed to strict adherence with both the spirit and letter of the Open Meetings Act,” Jarrard said. “If there is a concern with how this matter has been handled, that concern begins and ends with me.”