On 'leadering-up'

Sometimes leaders just have to stand up to the lawyers

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It’s hard for a layman to stand up to a lawyer.

But sometimes it’s got to be done.

Lawyers are educated and glib, or they wouldn’t be lawyers. And the vast majority are well-meaning and really do try to look after their clients’ best interests.

Yet, sometimes they go overboard in trying to protect a
client, and other times they’re just flat wrong.

We believe this was the case recently when the Richmond County Board of Elections was convinced by General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie that it could meet in secret to discuss the timing of next year’s local elections.

MacKenzie hung his hat – and all the board members’ hats – on a vague fear of lawsuits over the timing of the elections.

We’ll grant he’s right to be concerned. The matter has become a legislative mess, and the ultimate decision will be highly controversial. A state law moved local elections up from November to July, but the U.S. Justice Department objected under the Voting Rights Act. Well, the U.S. Supreme Court later ruled that portion of the act unconstitutional – which seems to throw the decision back to the county, which acts under the color of state law.

Yep, lots to sort out.

Still, neither mere controversy nor unspecific threats of litigation are sufficient under state law to justify closed public meetings. The threat must be concrete, according to experts at the Georgia Press Association and the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

Board of Elections members got some bad advice, in our view.

“As a result,” The Chronicle’s Susan McCord wrote, “the public was denied access to a conversation ... about when to hold next year’s city elections for mayor and five commission seats.”

That’s pretty consequential stuff, wouldn’t you think? Prospective candidates want to know when the elections will be. They, and all voters, have an absolute right to know what goes into the decision. They have the right – and, indeed, the obligation as self-governed citizens – to gauge the arguments and decide whether they’re happy with the decision.

Moreover, guess what: Even prospective litigants have that right.

And, oh by the way, just what is it that MacKenzie and the board members are afraid of? That their thinking, their arguments and their decision won’t be defensible? If they figure they’re going to get sued in any event, why hide?

And what if every board, every commission, every council in America conducted itself in this way, with such abject fear of lawsuits? Wouldn’t they have to do most of the public’s business in private?

There’s a word for such a system, and it’s not “democracy.”

Elected and appointed board members, both public and private, need to take with them the courage of their convictions – and the chutzpah to stand up to their own lawyers at times.

To paraphrase the Urban Dictionary’s definition of “manning up,” using gender-neutral language: It’s “to fulfill your responsibilities as a leader, despite your insecurities and constant ability to place yourself in embarrassing and un-leader-like scenarios.”

In other words, leader-up.

Comments (8) Add comment
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Riverman1
93229
Points
Riverman1 11/11/13 - 07:39 am
0
0
Don't Shoot the Piano Player

The Board of Elections could have overridden the attorney, but he was right to warn them that legal action could occur because of changing the election dates. Everyone KNOWS that’s going to occur. Don’t blame him for giving them the proper legal advice. They could have thanked him and chose to open the meeting, but legally speaking that would have been the wrong decision. The Chronicle is viewing it from the side of the press and its desire for omnipresent open meetings.

avidreader
3558
Points
avidreader 11/11/13 - 07:46 am
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What's the Big Deal?

Why the private meeting? Just make the decision. Does the controversy involve depleted participation in the black community if the elections are held in July? Can I infer that statistics reveal the black community has a higher turn-out in November? Maybe I'm missing the point.

Will someone please let me know?

deestafford
31683
Points
deestafford 11/11/13 - 08:50 am
0
0
I have heard lawyers described as "parasites of ambiguity".

Of course, laws for the most part are written by lawyers and just about any law, like the words of the Bible, can be twisted from their original intent.

As to the point of local elections being at off-times from national elections is concerned I support. Granted, the turn out will be lower but that is a good thing. It will have those who for the most part are more informed than the November voters. Additionally, it will allow more concentrated focus on local issues which tend to get over shadowed when rolled in with the national election.

Let me stir the puddin' a little bit by saying a lower turn out will be a good thing. I firmly believe we are having people vote who should not be voting because they are totally unqualified knowledge-wise to help decide the laws and policies under which we will live. These off time elections will keep most of the unmotivated from the polls and allow a more informed citizenry to make decisions for who will govern.

Bulldog
1333
Points
Bulldog 11/11/13 - 09:29 am
0
0
deestafford is right

We have far too many people who are voting on issues, of which, they have absolutely no understanding. These people are for the most part blatant racists! This is something that was supposed to have been dealt with 50 years ago, but it only seems to be getting worse. Just as bad, I have personally seen mentally disabled individuals being walked or wheeled into a voting booth and directed how to vote. Surely there is a better way...

Little Lamb
48824
Points
Little Lamb 11/11/13 - 09:56 am
0
0
Who Cares

From the news story:

. . . it’s what the law is,” said Chip Barbee, a Republican appointee on Richmond County Board of Elections.

If the Board of Elections ignores the open meetings laws, then it will just as obstinately ignore the elections laws. Laws mean nothing to Augusta government officials, and that especially includes the city attorney.

Darby
29165
Points
Darby 11/11/13 - 12:18 pm
1
0
I'd just like to know who voted and which way

they voted regarding the closed meeting.

I know that had I been on the Board at that time, I would have voted to keep the meeting open. Nothing is better for laundry than fresh air.

I suspect that if the votes were split, then one or both of the Republicans on the Board voted to keep the meeting open.

I could be wrong and the vote count may have been announced. I might have simply missed it. (Been a lot going on around the old homestead the past few weeks.)

Does anyone know the answer?

Little Lamb
48824
Points
Little Lamb 11/11/13 - 10:16 pm
1
0
Closed

That's why they have closed meetings, Darby. So you and I will never know who voted which way.

Darby
29165
Points
Darby 11/12/13 - 10:46 am
1
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Actually Lamb - the vote whether to close or

hold an open meeting is normally taken during an "open" session.

If the vote is successful, then everything beyond that point is done in secret. The record of the vote to enter the closed session should be available under the the FOIA.

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