Editorial: Requiring that mandatory mediation must always be closed to the public needs to be changed

Georgia is said to be a state that believes in open government, but that reputation was damaged last week when some local elected officials wanted to open up the people's business to the public they serve but were thwarted by Supreme Court of Georgia rules for mandatory mediation (prompted by a lawsuit filed by the City of Dalton), which require that such discussions be confidential.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington had hoped that at least the city's portion of the mediation concerning the service delivery agreement among Whitfield County and the other cities in the county would be open, and some members of the public felt invited to the mediation, believing some parts of it might be open.

But Adele Grubbs, a senior judge with the Cobb County Superior Court who was overseeing the mediation, said Supreme Court of Georgia rules for mandatory mediation require that the discussions be confidential and that they can not be opened to the public and can not be discussed by the participants outside of the mediation.

Let's see if we have this straight.

If all sides of the mandatory mediation want the discussions to be open, and members of the public want the discussions to be open, there is a Supreme Court of Georgia rule that forbids that?

Is this any way to run a state?

Georgia is a conservative state, and many of its elected officials, both at the local and state levels, preach the importance of not only open government but local control.

Here, a procedure in place at the state level is frustrating both goals. Not only are some government actions not open to the public, the closing of the discussions is mandated not by the local participants themselves but by a rule developed for a state entity. No doubt when the rule was put in place there were seemingly legitimate arguments that prompted its adoption, but in the instant case Whitfield County residents got to see firsthand how the rule frustrates the will of the governed.

Dalton Tea Party Organizer Naomi Swanson, who attended the mediation, most likely spoke for many of the two dozen who also attended hoping to see their government officials in action when she said, "I'm disappointed. The mayor invited the public to come here, and I'm sure he wouldn't have done that if he'd known it would all be closed."

This is a situation that needs to be changed. We encourage our local elected officials to do their homework on this matter, engage the proper authorities and make the case that an absolute rule such as this does not serve the public well.

And after all, that's who these governmental exercises are for in the first place.

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