Legislature should close loophole

Photo by Carly Farrell

Photo by Carly Farrell

Between now and the time the General Assembly meets for its next regular session in January, Attorney General Sam Olens has pledged to traverse the state and gather input on how best the state's open records and open meetings laws can be tinkered with.

It's with absolutely no ambiguity, hesitation or lack of clarity that this taxpaying citizen of Dougherty County would offer to the good attorney general a humble suggestion to close what appears to me to be a glaring loophole in the open records law.

Under O.C.G.A. 20-2-210 (a) "All personnel employed by local units of administration, including school superintendents, shall have their performance evaluated annually by appropriately trained evaluators.

All such performance evaluation records shall be part of the personnel evaluation file and shall be confidential.

In the case of local school superintendents, such evaluations shall be performed by the local board of education."

There is no explanation that anyone can give me that justifies why school superintendents' evaluations should be kept confidential.

If you check your annual property tax bill, you'll see that here in Dougherty County, the school system is the single largest recipient of our property tax dollars. On top of that, they receive their own 1 percent sales tax for capital improvements and purchases.

But, thanks to three little words in paragraph (a) above, the person with the ability to spend all of that money is exempt from having the public know how the board he or she is working for evaluates job performance and, in the immortal words of my grandfather, "that just ain't right."

Whether we're talking about Joshua Murfree, Freddy Thompson, Lawrence Walters or Barbara Thomas, the conversation is the same.

Right now, I can call up Nathan Davis, the city of Albany's attorney, and say, "Hey, Nathan, I need Alfred Lott's last evaluation," or, "Give me James Taylor's last review," and it would likely be in my hand by the end of the day.

And there is no difference. Taylor was hired by the Albany City Commission -- an elected board -- to be the chief executive officer of the city.

He is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the city and developing an annual budget.

All of the area superintendents were hired by a vote of their respective school boards -- elected officials all -- to oversee the day-to-day operations of the school systems and to develop an annual budget.

Yet, the public doesn't have the same ability to view the annual evaluations of these public officials as they do others who have the exact same responsibilities.

This is an easy fix that Olens or any of our legislative delegation can handle without breaking a sweat while also adding another layer of transparency to local government.