Decatur City Commission, School Board will drive 48 miles for retreat

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 19, 2013

There’s a retreat between Decatur City Commissioners and City Schools of Decatur Board of Education Officials on Friday, Nov. 22. It begins at 8 a.m. and lasts until 5 p.m.

It’s a public meeting, but if you want to attend you might need to clear your calendar first. The meeting will be nearly an hour away, at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield, Ga., about 48 miles southeast of the city of Decatur.

During the meeting, the School Board and City Commission will talk about  … well, to be honest, it’s difficult to tell from this agenda posted down at City Hall.

The meeting notice as posted outside of City Hall. The address listed for the Friday meeting is incorrect.

The meeting notice as posted outside of City Hall. The address listed for the Friday meeting is incorrect.

We can be fairly certain that lunch and breakfast will be served. If there’s a more detailed agenda, I didn’t see it. Also, the address listed on this flyer appears to be incorrect. That address would put you in the middle of some pristine Georgia farm land. When I Googled the Wildlife Center, it showed the address as 543 Elliott Trail, Mansfield, GA 30055.

I also didn’t see notice of this retreat posted anywhere on the city website as of Nov. 18. 

I’m not trying to make a big deal out of this. I’m sure the retreat meets all of the technical requirements of the state Open Meetings Act (they might want to correct that address thing, though). UPDATE: The city commission sent over a corrected meeting announcement this morning. City Commissioners and School Board members can hold a retreat. How far they will retreat, however, is another matter entirely.

Based on my experience covering local governments, retreats sometimes go outside of city limits. When that happens the press seldom attends, much less the public. The economics of it aren’t worth it for most newspapers. You tie up a reporter all day for what may be one story, at best, and it will run inside the metro section somewhere.

I can’t attend because of my other obligations.

If the intent of the retreat was to provide the two parties some seclusion, Decatur wins this round. It’s my hope that some dedicated parents will attend and let us know what was said.

It’s not a secret that relationship between the Board of Education and City Commission is strained. The school system is coping with its growth and commissioners have some control over the school system’s destiny. If you’ll recall, in August commissioners unanimously voted to postpone a referendum on issuing school bonds.

Mayor Jim Baskett proposed a “blue ribbon committee” made up of school board members and commissioners that would examine issues related to the growth of the school system. City Schools of Decatur, meanwhile, has been exploring other ways to fund school construction projects.

The BOE and City Commission aren’t coordinating very well, and it shows.

For example: During last night’s City Commission meeting, commissioners voted to annex in several properties along McKinnon Drive and Kirk Road to clean up city boundary lines. Some parcels were split between the city and DeKalb, creating confusion about delivery of city services.

Commissioner Patti Garrett said she’d received a message from BOE members saying they weren’t notified about the annexations.

City Manager Peggy Merriss apologized for not notifying the BOE. Mayor Baskett said, “I think the school board in general knows we’ve been trying to clean up that area.”

He added, “If they have concerns about us doing some other kind of annexation, personally I think a conversation with them is absolutely in order.”

I guess we can assume they’ll get a chance to talk about it on Friday?

I’m going to step outside my reporter role for a second and make a respectful request of our city officials. If there’s any way to provide recorded audio or video of Friday’s proceedings and then post it to the city’s website, I think the city should do it. I’m sure there will be more than a few people (not just reporters, mind) who would be interested to hear what was discussed.

While this meeting complies with the letter of the law, I think it’s disingenuous for officials to discuss these important issues at a time and place that would be inconvenient for most of their constituents. Promises made during these proceedings would be meaningless, unless we have a permanent record of who is making them and why.

There are important issues facing the school system right now. I think our elected officials owe the public a transparent and honest conversation about how they intend to deal with these issues going forward.

Holding an open meeting an hour away from the city doesn’t set a high bar for transparency. Let’s hope the city will provide a way for us to stay engaged with our government.

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Rick Baggenstoss

    Seems like some ‘alone’ time is much needed for these groups. We should celebrate that they’re finally spending this time together. I think you’ve missed an important aspect of the story … a long overdue retreat to hash out issues. What can we expect when they return? What if it were well attended by parents, would the outcome be better/worse?

    • A quorum of elected officials can only have “alone time” in certain specific instances. A retreat is not one of them.

  • Steve

    This a retreat, designed to be away from distractions. There’s nothing secretive going on. The City Commission has an annual retreat by itself every year and I imagine the School Board does the same.

    • Never said that there was. Just pointing out the meeting wasn’t well advertised and is being held at an inconvenient location. This is a meeting as defined by the Open Meetings Act. These officials have no more expectation of privacy than they would at any other meeting.

  • Geoff

    Thank you, Dan, for keeping us up-to-date. I’m sure that the meeting will be productive and our upstanding local leaders will use this much-needed time wisely.

    Frankly, I’m surprised at the above comments that seem to question you for bringing this up. This town hasn’t always had a consistent, thoughtful “fourth estate” helping us to follow our local government and I’m glad that you are one of the voices helping to do so currently. Further, the “sunshine laws” are there for a reason and should not be discounted.

    We typically elect high-functioning, high-quality officials in Decatur and are lucky that we have a deep pool of dedicated public servants. That doesn’t mean, however, that we aren’t entitled to, and don’t need, journalists to serve their role in our democracy. A free press ensures a free society. Thank you for doing your part.

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