AVOC.info
Quick-Search:    

Advanced Search


3-15-06 A J-C recognizes government watchdogs - Heros for Open Government - Jasper and Pike

Mary Patrick - TWG-Jasper- "I'm a CPA, so I do taxes and bookwork for people;' Patrick said. "And they'd come into the office and moan and groan and carryon about their property taxes all the time. Year after year I heard this. So I finally de¬cided: Everybody who comes in and does that, I'm going to call them and ask them whether they really want to do anything about it. ……………….. So began TWG, and Patrick's journey into open government. "That's how I got into open meetings and open records laws;” she said. "I've about memorized them!' ……………………………………………… Carol Bass- Pikewatchdog- They say you can't beat City Hall. Well, we did:' she said. "Then you gotta beat 'em again, and beat 'em again”, and Bass and a small group of fellow residents filed suit against the County Commission in 2003………………………………………….. Lorraine Green - Gwinnett Commissioner- Green also led the way in getting commission meetings broadcast live. ………… Before that, the county had taped the meetings and then aired them 48 hours later……. "Nobody could really say why that was done,’ she said. "It really seemed very silly. I could go online and see very, very small municipalities air¬ing their meetings live. And I couldn't see why a huge, technologically savvy government like Gwinnett couldn't do the same thing!'

AVOC

.

March 13, 2006

.

A J-C recognizes government watchdogs - Heros for Open Government

 .

Jasper’s Tax Watchdogs and Pikewatchdog of Pike County included

.

By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

.

Over my public official and post-public official career, I have gotten to know several bona fide advocates for the public interest.We have a number in Oconee and area counties.

.

AVOC has gotten to know Watchdogs in several counties in more recent years.  Two of those groups, Taxpayer Watchdog Group, Inc. of Jasper County and Pikewatchdog of Pike County, were given special recognition this last weekend by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   The paper carried a section on Public Watchdogs on Sunday, March 12, 2006, and feted the honorees to a Recognition Luncheon on Monday, March 13, 2006, at the Cox Publications Executive Offices!

.

AVOC thinks the recognition is well deserved and congratulates the honorees- especially Mary Patrick of Taxpayer Watchdogs Group, Inc and Lloyd Gayton and Carol Bass of Pikewatchdog!

.

HEROS

.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

http://www.ajc.com/sunday/content/epaper/editions/sunday/issue_4431f9a534ebd07c002e.html

.

OPEN GOVERNMENT

Stories by RICHARD HALICKS, @issue editor


March I2, 2006                      Page B 2

.

CITIZEN HERO I MARY PATRICK

Mary Patrick of Jasper County

.

MARY PATRICK

Certified public accountant

.

Hometown: Monticello

.

Tenacious CPA keeps officials accountable

.

Patrick doesn't miss much. If it's physically pos­sible, she has her ear to the ground, her moistened finger in the wind and her eye on the horizon, all at once.

.

Unfortunately for officials of Jasper County and the coun­ty seat, Monticello, all that scrutiny is focused on them.

.

"She wants to know all of what we're saying, what we are thinking, what we are talk-

ing about;' said Charles Hill, a three-term Jasper County commissioner. "She always harps on the sunshine law, that we are making decisions away from the public, which we are not!'

.

Mary Patrick wants to make sure, though. The longtime CPA in Monticello heads Taxpayer Watchdog Group, at­tending meetings and some­times videotaping them. She also runs taxdogs.com, which keeps up a nearly constant bombardment of local government. Some current links:

.

"Who hasn't paid their property tax bill?" (Her list includes two county commis­sioners' top-ranking police officials and others.)

.

"Taxpayers pay Judge Jack­son to coach!' (She claims that Chief Magistrate Ken Jackson frequently does legal work for neighboring counties and also coaches sports at a local school when he should be working for Jasper County.)

.

"I'm a CPA, so I do taxes and bookwork for people;' Patrick said."And they'd come into the office and moan and groan and carryon about their property taxes all the time. Year after year I heard this. So I finally de­cided: Everybody who comes in and does that, I'm going to call them and ask them whether they really want to do anything about it.”

.

So began TWG, and Patrick's journey into open government. "That's how I got into open meetings and open records laws”, she said."I've about memorized them!'

.

Her mission has led Patrick into thousands of pages of government documents - and some interesting findings. She discovered, for instance, that in the late I990s Monticello's city manager collected $ 72,720 in state grant money to im­prove rental properties owned by the city manager and his brother.

.

"People had talked about that for years, that this city manager was getting all his rental houses fixed up;' Pat­rick said. "So I started doing research. I had open records from [the state Department of Community Affairs].

.

"I had a list of the houses, and we went up to the clerk of the court's office and went through the deeds to find who owned them. Then we ... got a copy of a list of all the checks and who they were made out to!'

.

Patrick's discovery resulted in the state filing sanctions against the city of Monticello, putting a two-year ban on ad­ditional grants to the city. That ban expires March 22.

.

Another of Patrick's targets, Chief Magistrate Jackson, says, "We've got this group here that likes to stir everything up.I understand their concerns, I guess [but] I don't think there's much of a story here."

Patrick says Jackson, a full­time magistrate, is rarely in his office. She says he's busy doing freelance legal work in other counties - mostly in juvenile courts - or being a coach at a local school.

.

"I think she thinks I should always be in the office, staring at the wall, even if there's not a whole lot of business going on:' said Jackson, chief magistrate since I997.

.

He acknowledged that he does legal work in other counties, although he says he has cut back in recent years, and that he occasionally volunteers as a coach at a local school. But he strongly defends his performance.

.

"I would challenge you to ask everybody that uses this court. Talk to the clerk of the courts, talk to the sheriff, the police chief, talk to the people who file the most civil filings. You let me know if there's a single complaint they have with the functioning of this court.I’m very proud of this court. I’m very proud of the professionalism and the customer service we offer.”

.

Mary Patrick knows that some in the county don't ap­preciate what she does. If she's a hero, she's often a lonely one.

.

"It would be so much easier for everybody if more people would get involved:' she said.

.

"For some reason, people just don't want to make waves. They feel that they can't

do anything. They feel that nothing's ever going to change.

.

"But if you care enough, and you keep fighting and you have some passion about it - or as my husband calls it, 'obses­sion' - I think you can make a difference!'


.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

http://www.ajc.com/sunday/content/epaper/editions/sunday/issue_4431f9c534ebf04d004e.html

.

March I2, 2006                      Page B 2

.

CITIZEN HERO / CAROL BASS

.

 .

Pike County Watchdogs Carol Bass and Lloyd Gayton

.

CAROL BASS

.

Bookkeeper, Council on Aging for Mcintosh Trail,

a Griffin-based agency that serves the elderly in five counties.

.

Age: 58

.

Hometown: Molena

.

Watchdog holds Pike's feet to the fire

.

Zebulon - Zebulon Pike, dubbed by a biographer as "the lost pathfinder:' didn't pass through Georgia while en route to a certain peak. But folks here were so high on Pike that they created Pike County in I822 and named its seat Zebulon.

.

With its soaring clock tower, the stately courthouse in Zebulon is a landmark that even the stumbling explorer could locate, if he were around today.

.

And if he couldn't, Carol Bass could show Pike the way. The courthouse is familiar terrain to her. But Bass might also feel some kinship with Pike. She sometimes thinks she's walking the same trail over and over again.

.

They say you can't beat City Hall. Well, we did:' she said. "Then you gotta beat 'em again, and beat 'em again, and Bass and a small group of fellow residents filed suit against the County Commis­sion in 2003, alleging that the commissioners were meeting in secret session in violation of the law. Their suit ended in a settlement, which included the unusual provision that the commission record all its ex­ecutive sessions for two years and provide those records to the court on demand.

.

Lloyd Gayton, 78, of Zebu­lon, joined Bass in the lawsuit.

.

"Well, the ink wasn't dry on the settlement when they started doing it again;' Gayton said."So we sued again. And during the course of that suit, we asked the judge to listen to four of those tapes-After he listened to two, he told the commissioners, 'If you bring this before me I will find you in violation! "

.

The commission settled a second time.

.

Bass and Gayton are both proud of the battle they've waged, but both are unsure that they've really been able to change much in the count.

.

"Probably the answer would be no:' Bass said, "which is terribly sad considering the amount of time and energy we've put into it!'

.

Some in Pike County think they've put too much time and energy into it.

.

"She has the right to do everything she does:' said County Manager Tommy Burnsed."I don't want to deny anybody their right to know what's going on. Everybody has that right. Some just use it a little more than others!'

.

Burnsed said the open - re­cords requests often become burdensome.

.

"The openness actually costs the county taxpayers a ' lot of dollars”, he said. ".   We have an abundance of open record requests in this county; it takes a lot of time to provide those services."

.

The county manager said Bass makes most of those requests, including a monthly request for a record of every check the county wrote that month.

.

"We'll have an open re­cords request for the check run:' he said."Within a few days it'll be on their Web site. And the phone calls will heat up, people wanting to know what was this check for, what was that check for. And it's time-consuming.

.

"Not that they don't have a right to know. Please don't take me wrong. It gets to be a burden to the taxpayers - and usually it's me having to end up ex­plaining the money situation.”

.

Bass is not sympathetic. "The biggest problem they have is they resent citizens asking to review records:' she said."They have said it's a waste of employees' time to produce records .... It should not be that way."

.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

http://www.ajc.com/

.

March I2, 2006                      Page B 3

.

PUBLIC OFFICIAL HERO / LORRAINE GREEN

.

.Gwinnett Commissioner Lorraine Green

.

LORRAINE GREEN Member,

Gwinnett County Commission

Age: 43

Hometown: Lawrenceville

.

Commissioner has open mind

.

Lorraine Green has seen local government from both sides - first as a homeowner activist fighting big develop­ment projects in her neigh­borhood and then as a county commissioner in Gwinnett.

.

In her former role, she needed government to be open.And today she has a much stronger say in keeping it that way.

.

Green last year led the commissioners in opening up deliberations over property acquisitions - a process that had been carried out entirely in secret.

.

"When [reporters] first ap­proached me about it and said 'this is wrong; she said, 'Oh, no, no, no, I'm sure we're doing it right; " Green said. "I'd only been in office two or three months. So our staff started researching it, and I started looking into it a bit more. And it kind of became obvious after a while that we were not being as open as we could have been!'

.

County land purchases can be tricky, with speculators trying to figure out where the government will buy next.

.

"What we were afraid of was that, once it became pub­lic that we were negotiating on a certain piece of property, a developer would swoop in and pay the property owner substantially more than the county was offering;' she said.

.

In the past, commission­ers met in executive session to consider land purchases.   The board decided whether the land was worth acquiring, authorized an appraisal and then had the county manager negotiate with the landowner. "We never saw it again until the deal was closed:' Green said.

.

The board still considers property in private, but it 'doesn't take a vote; instead, the county manager is autho­rized to negotiate a contract that is subject to board ap­proval. Commissioners then meet in public to vote on whether to acquire the land.Green believes this is "the most open policy in the state" regarding land acquisition.

.

Green also led the way in getting commission meetings broadcast live.

.

Before that, the county had taped the meetings and then aired them 48 hours later.

.

"Nobody could really say why that was done,” she said."It really seemed very silly. I could go online and see very, very small municipalities air­ing their meetings live. And I couldn't see why a huge, tech­nologically savvy government like Gwinnett couldn't do the same thing!'


Quick-Search: