Social media posts by the City of Statesboro suggest that the city council violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act during their April city council meeting.
City council members met for their first meeting in April on Tuesday before adjourning to go into executive session. The City posted in the comments section of the live feed that city officials convened in closed session away from the public to discuss ‘personnel matters.’ The City cited OCGA 50-14-3(b) and stated that upon adjournment of the executive session, council members voted to appoint three citizens to the Keep Statesboro-Bulloch Beautiful Advisory Board.
Citizens serving on advisory boards do not fall into the classification of ‘personnel.’ Personnel, under Georgia law, OCGA 50-14-3(b)(2), limits the use of executive session for those matters specifically to discuss the “appointment, employment, compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal, or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee or interviewing applicants for the position of the executive head of an agency.”
Citizens serving on advisory boards do not fall into the classification of ‘personnel’ as they are neither full-time or part-time employees under contract with the city.
A public officer, as defined in the Georgia code under OCGA 21-5-3(22) detailing Ethics in Government, applies to constitutional officers in Georgia, every elected state official, every executive head of every state department or agency, members of the General Assembly, the executive director of each state board, commission, council, or authority and the members thereof, every elected county official and every elected member of a local board of education, and every elected municipal official.
The Georgia Municipal Association, a lobbying organization funded by tax dollars of which the City of Statesboro is a member, also defines a public officer as an individual with ‘a fiduciary responsibility to constituents.’
KSBB board members are appointed volunteers serving at the pleasure of the mayor and council and therefore do not meet the standard of employee or public officer justifying executive session. Additionally, KSBB meetings are open to the public under the Georgia Open Meetings Act, which further denies the suggestion that the board members are city personnel in the same manner firefighters or public works employees are.
This is the second time the City has convened in an executive session to discuss board appointments in 2021. Violations of the Open Meetings Act are misdemeanor offenses in Georgia that carry a fine of up to $1,000. The Georgia Attorney General’s Office has the discretion to impose a civil penalty as an alternative.
Mayor Jonathan McCollar was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.