I started attending meetings of the Board of Commissioners in October 2009.
From the beginning, communication from the county administration to the county commissioners has been a constant concern. You can see it when Commissioners Oz Nesbitt and JaNice Van Ness are caught off guard with something. For example, the recent 22-plus percent cost overrun on the Rockdale Water Resources rate study contract.
Or even last week when the board recognized the two young men who tried to save the lives of the Glass family children. Neither Commissioner Nesbitt nor Van Ness knew it would be a media event that included coverage from all of the Atlanta TV stations.
Despite his attempts to get an approval for the cost overrun onto the BOC's agenda for several months, why didn't Dwight Wicks, director of Rockdale Water Resources, just pick up the phone or send an email communicating a cost overrun to Commissioners Nesbitt and/or Van Ness?
Why didn't Tonya Parker, director of Community Affairs and Innovative Programs (public relations), call or email Commissioners Nesbitt and/or Van Ness and let them know there would be a media event at a BOC meeting?
I used to think the breakdown in communication had a lot to with former Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon. But recently, I've learned it has more to do with Chairman Richard Oden's policies and directives than anything else.
Through an Open Records Act request, I discovered a memo dated Sept. 28, 2012, sent from Chairman Oden to department heads and directors that memorializes the protocol for communications with the "legislators" (a word Chairman Oden commonly uses to reference the commissioners).
In the memo he writes, "The protocol is to inform me of all communications from the legislators (i.e., email, phone calls, visits external and internal etc.) in writing." That's right, he emphasized the word "writing." He goes on to reiterate his authority and powers over the legislators in the day-to-day operations of the county. He continues, "All communications from the legislators related to county government operational matters must be brought through the Chief of Staff, to me for implementation."
Read the memo for yourself at http://ajk.rockdalenet.com/BOCWatch/Memo092812.pdf
After finding this memo, I discussed it with someone who wishes to remain anonymous. This person acknowledged seeing the memo and told me it was reiterated at the Jan. 9 staff meeting with department heads and directors. I filed another ORA request, and sure enough, "Commissioner's Visits" is item V. B. on the agenda, but oddly enough, there are no minutes, notes or recordings of this meeting.
I would also like to note, according to my ORA response, this memo and staff meeting were the only one of their kind from January 2012 through January 2013.
Another oddity; the staff meeting comes the day after the Board of Commissioners' retreat on Jan. 8 in which, according to the Jan. 9 Rockdale Citizen, "Improving communication among board members was the focus of a day-long retreat held Tuesday by the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners."
The article also indicates Chairman Oden "cautioned fellow commissioners against making demands on staff members and to avoid situations that would bring negative attention to Rockdale County." And among the goals Oden presented: "promotion of Rockdale County in a unified manner."
In closing, I'm going to leave it to the reader to decide for themselves what is happening here. But I want to ask, by not informing the commissioners of a cost overrun on a contract, and by not informing the commissioners of a major media event, is the chairman avoiding situations that would bring negative attention to Rockdale County? Is he promoting Rockdale County in a unified manner?
-- Arthur J. Kidney