I am writing to express my frustration that you continue to abdicate the responsibilities the media should fulfill in our democratic society to inform the public on significant issues and to hold elected officials accountable. In stark contrast, the sequence of events over the past two weeks strongly suggests that your actions aided and abetted the Bryan County Commission in covert, emergency acts to avoid accountability to the taxpayers.
I have expressed my utter disgust to the commissioners, individually and collectively, regarding the actions taken on September 3 and 4 to buy the Fisherman’s Coop property. I previously made two requests via emails to the commissioners, supported by sound logic, asking that they provide full disclosure to the taxpayers regarding the scope and estimated costs of this project before committing our county to this expensive development venture. After no action and only two acknowledgements from commissioners, I sent an email to your publisher requesting coverage by your newspaper; no acknowledgement. I then wrote to you and included some of the information which should have been disclosed. Thank you for publishing that letter although, based upon my outreach to others in the community, your readership must be fairly thin. Interestingly, you elected not to present the facts to your readers and the public in your front-page article last week, which appeared to be written by the county’s public relations firm (yes, taxpayers, you are paying one).
Instead, the sequence and timing of events strongly suggests that, upon advance notification from you to the county regarding growing concern and questions from the public, and before publication of my letter to you, the Commission called an emergency special meeting to be held as quickly as feasible without violating Georgia law (24 hour limited notice required), which was held two business days before their regular monthly meeting, in the morning when the public is at work, to authorize closing and funding of this $3.25 million land purchase before the end of the day, weeks before the contractual expiration of due diligence. Then, the county solicited the aforementioned public relations firm, to whom I understand we taxpayers pay approximately $80 thousand per year, to tout and spin this action on social media, various websites and your September 10 edition, supported by nothing but emotional malarkey, leaving out almost all pertinent facts, like the fact that the 24 acres is really only 9 acres, as if the Fisherman’s Coop is some sort of mystical shrine.
I see no logical justification for this covert, emergency action. I see no reason for this to have been on the agenda of a hastily called special meeting two business days prior to the regular monthly commission meeting. It appears to have been done to avoid accountability to the taxpayers for someone’s expensive pet project. The Commissions’ reckless disregard for logic and fiscal responsibility is inexplicable to me, as it is totally out of character for the majority of them, whom I know fairly well.
Why no independent appraisal of the property? Why offer full listed price for a property which has been listed for sale for numerous years? Why no serious negotiation to reduce the initial offered price more than a paltry 7% during due diligence? Why no firm, committed funding plan and financial analysis upon which to base such a decision? Why the emergency, covert moves to avoid accountability to taxpayers? Candidly, it smacks of impropriety, as if there is some coverup, collusion, or deal about which taxpayers should remain ignorant. There are no accusations here; the optics are not good. Maybe the PR firm should have focused on the optics and advised the county to comply with my requests instead of misleading the public with emotional innuendo?
Moreover, why is our local newspaper unwilling to do its job in holding elected officials accountable and informing the taxpayers? Why is there a void in the system of checks and balances that the media should fill in our system of government? Why does our weekly legal organ and its management opt not to use its pages for this important tenet, but instead to publish sports coverage on its front page, pablum from police blotters, and, in their weekly articles, drone on about the likes of football pools and family reunions? You can do better; your readers deserve it.
Bryan County is now impregnated with the myriad obligations that accompany the Fisherman’s Coop tract. Every taxpayer, whether they support or oppose this project, (and most don’t have enough information to make that determination rationally), should be alarmed and called to action by these events. In my 24 years of residency in Bryan County, I have never seen poorer leadership, judgment or accountability.
Sincerely, Mike Odom, Richmond Hill