BROOK: Do county agencies really want public input?

Special to The TelegraphJune 15, 2014 

Thanks to The Telegraph for the expansive piece on “One Macon.” There appears to be substantial communication and a semblance of common goals and promised cooperation among a wide and diverse group within One Macon leadership. Hopefully the coming weeks will define involvement by the troops (residents).

The anniversary of one of the defining historic events of World War II, D-Day, was celebrated last week. This is an excellent example of showing the importance of the troops. Generals and their staff planned the invasion for years, promising the initial wave of soldiers a “shock and awe” destruction of defenses prior to the landings from both air and naval forces only not to be delivered. The success of D-Day early on was achieved by the enlisted men who carried the day as they died by the thousands.

Macon-Bibb County residents have had their share of unfulfilled promises and huge sums of tax money squandered without explanation or reported attempt to reclaim any misspent funds. One Macon leadership did not list the element most missing in local government and agencies over the years, that is, openness and transparency with true, not lip-service opportunities, for early input by residents as life goes on.

The phrase I would use from the troops is “Will you listen to us now?”

Elected and appointed officials who serve in various departmental (agency) positions that impact the lives of community residents say they want input from all involved to achieve better results, yet in their organizational structure and operations they favor the officials’ comfort and convenience, creating conditions that hinder/discourage resident participation. Then, some officials appear dismayed when the troops become disconnected, and appeals for community involvement are met with silent disdain or strenuous objection.

The reaction to this statement could possibly be described as broad generalities, but I refute that argument with concrete examples of created roadblocks to reasonable and fair resident participation resulting in unhappy campers.

[ ] Low voter participation in local elections. I and others in the community believe part of this low turnout is the result of not allowing nonpartisan election for all local offices, thereby allowing voters to select the individual that they deem to be the best candidate. (Partisan elections with political affiliations of Democrat, Republican or Independent would continue for state and national elections.) The division by party for local offices where residents should be better informed about candidates is divisive by nature.

[ ] Arbitrary time limits, especially severe short ones, for residents’ comments are usually the result of poor leadership capabilities in an open meeting and/or poor advance preparation about the issue involved.

[ ] Two decades ago a Telegraph article described an item to be discussed at the next Board of Education meeting: “contribution of used air conditioning units to AC some classrooms.” I attended and signed up to speak. I quickly cited the reasons not to accept the gift. After three minutes, my time was called. I left frustrated. A board member aware of my AC expertise caught up with me in the hall, apologizing. Luckily I had said enough to avoid this bad deal.

I decided not to return to the BOE to comment until years later and the Romain Dallemand era. I attended meetings, asked questions at meetings where the board promised that all questions and answers would be posted. Huge, unfilled promise and that was only the tip of the iceberg of opaqueness and questionable leadership and governance that followed. And some of those most involved now urge that we move on. Move on to what with nothing learned from the fiasco except a near total lack of confidence with the Bibb school district?

[ ] Planning and Zoning is a venue residents infrequently attend. It has the opportunity to be disturbing and traumatic because the items often are considered deals with a family’s home. The average property owner is not knowledgeable of P&Z and is not used to presenting before authority figures. The proposal applicant is a professional, and it’s almost like a stacked deck.

P&Z has promulgated severe and arbitrary time limits on items before the commission.

The current hearing room is a small conference room on the 10th floor of the Willie Hill building with inadequate space for an audience and a totally inadequate sound reinforcement system. P&Z commissioners and staff and those presenting to the commission are located in a cozy U-shaped arrangement that facilitates their exchange at one end of the room, leaving interested citizens isolated at the other end of the room.

[ ] Appeals to the Board of Tax Assessors property assessments of land and improvements are allowed by state law through the process of appeals to the Board of Equalization. The revaluation of all property within Bibb County that was conducted by the BOA several years ago was performed so poorly and untimely there were 60,000-plus appeals which caused the creation of multiple boards of equalization to handle the volume. These boards instituted individual appeal time intervals of 15 minutes to meet a schedule due to poor management. This schedule of 15 minutes per item is totally inadequate for the average novice property owner.

The Board of Equalization appeal process is weighted against the property owner even without this unfair time constraint. The average property owner is a novice in these matters at best. The Board of Equalization staff member who attends the appeal is a professional, and the Board of Equalization members are supposed to be knowledgeable through training and experience, dedicated to perform their duties and allowing a fair appeal.

A member of any of these bodies of decision makers and others should dedicate/commit to the necessary time to inform oneself and agree to spend the time necessary to faithfully meet and interact with residents, or they should decline to serve.

The word “is” was never defined, but the troops understand fair and balanced.

Arthur D. Brook is a resident of Macon.

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