Secrecy only makes things worse

Columbia County only ramped up tension keeping report under wraps

Imagine a jury foreman saying, “Your honor, we have reached a verdict. We’ll let you know what it is in a couple weeks.”

 

That’s essentially what Columbia County has done.


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Last week, commissioners received the sheriff’s report they’d asked for on a complaint by former Emergency Management Agency Director Pam Tucker alleging a hostile work environment had been created by county Administrator Scott Johnson. There’s also a companion report on Tucker. But the county won’t officially release its findings until today, after observing an arbitrary 10-day waiting period.

There isn’t even a waiting period to buy a gun these days. Why wait 10 days to release a highly anticipated report that has such a bearing on the public perception of the local government? We asked that question of several officials last week.

Commission Chairman Ron Cross initially argued that the 10-day delay was required by law.

“The delay is part of the law,” Chairman Cross wrote us. “Please talk to the sheriff or the county attorney. The commission is not delaying.”

Well, not so fast. We did contact the county attorney, Chris Driver. He said there is no such prohibition in the law, and that the county had the power and discretion to release the report immediately.

Then Mr. Cross argued that the sheriff wanted it withheld from the public for 10 days as a matter of department protocol. We confirmed that with a department spokesman, who said Sheriff Clay Whittle was sticking with the waiting period. Cross said he’s sticking with the sheriff.

We respect that sign of respect toward the sheriff. But it’s made for some silliness over the past week, as snippets of the report predictably leaked out. One media outlet was said to be convinced another had received a surreptitious copy of the report, and insisted to the sheriff the 10-day waiting period had been breached.

The sheriff is said to have called a radio talk show host to make sure he didn’t have a copy.

This page was offered a copy by one source, who later reneged out of fear of both the sheriff and jail time – though it’s our firm belief that release of the report would not have been any sort of crime.

Meanwhile, the public, which has been wondering about this report for months, was kept in the dark another week for no legal reason. Unfortunately, Georgia law allows it.

When asked by Chairman Cross what the benefit would have been in releasing the report without delay, we responded:

• A showing of openness and transparency

• A tamping down of suspicions that a delay raises

• Moving ahead and leaving this behind sooner

• A statement that this is the people’s government, and it’s responsive to our concerns

• An affirmation that it’s important to get confidence back in Columbia County government

• It’s fairer to all parties – Scott Johnson and Pam Tucker alike, but all employees and citizens – to get this resolved without delay

• So we can move on to other topics more uplifting

Instead, the county’s attempt at secrecy only served to further pit people against one another and escalate bad feelings surrounding the local government. How can that possibly engender confidence in our public officials?

We appreciate the chairman’s loyalty to the sheriff. We understand the sheriff’s adherence to protocol in most cases. But this is not your garden-variety investigation. This is a probe into the functionality and livability of the county government’s work environment. We pay the freight. Our family, friends and neighbors work for the county. We deserved the right to see behind the curtain, without delay. We’ve earned it, with our tax dollars and citizenship.

No one deserved it more than Scott Johnson and Pam Tucker – neither of whom wanted this report suppressed.

This is what a lack of transparency gets you – murkiness, anxiety and confusion.

It was all so unnecessary.

Johnny Rio 13 days ago
I'm hearing segments of the report are being redacted by county government. That puts the veracity and accuracy of the report in question. Not only should the unedited report be public record, but notes the Sheriff's investigators made should also be available if openness is the goal.
Roland SASSER 13 days ago
This is starting to sound like Richmond County stuff!
ANTHONY FULMER 13 days ago
It certainly seems like the kind of corrupted antics put on in Richmond County to me. We will have to see what is in the report I guess. We will soon be finding out if Clay Whittle is being a political puppet for the commission and needs to be replaced.
Val White 13 days ago
Please let us find a real conservative, a truly qualified Republican who will work for the people s/he represents to run against Cross.
Paula Steates 13 days ago
How about a qualified candidate regardless of party affiliation. I agree Cross needs to go.
Jerry Whitcomb 13 days ago
10 days to make sure they get their stories straight.....come up with the right "spin"........destroy any remaining evidence......put on a fresh coat of whitewash. 

Cats covering up crap. 

Hard to fight the good old boys when the good old boys are in charge of the investigation and cover-up. 

RELEASE THE UN-REDACTED FULL REPORT THIS MORNING !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bill Pinot 13 days ago
10 days, enough time to send it back for editing or verification!!  It looks like 2 political office holders stepped in something and neither wants to admit it!! I wonder what one has on the other???
Paula Steates 13 days ago
Ron Cross needs to go. He thinks everyone in this county is a conservative republican or ought to be. He backs Trump 100%. This is what he wrote in this months newsletter "Will our President ever get any credit even near the worship of our former President by the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Huffington Press, or even social media?" Seriously?? I think you are deluded Mr. Cross.
chas cushman 13 days ago
I think Cross is spot-on about the press and the lying, America hating, racist piece of camel who was president.

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