East Ridge And Freedom Of Information


East Ridge And Freedom Of Information
posted March 17, 2009

Once again, Curtis Adams proves his heart is truly aligned with the people he serves.

I follow Freedom of Information Act cases, and having once worked as a reporter in Northwest Georgia years ago, often wrote about the very type of thing going on in East Ridge. Once again, as in most cases, I am watching public leaders narrowly interpret a requirement that all public business be done in public - especially when our courts consistently offer as broad of an interpretation as possible, when all is said and done.

In one respect, the city and the attorney is right. This is about protecting attorney-client privilege. However, in this case, the client is the public. The public is the client. And the public has a right to know what is going on with most interactions regarding the attorney, except where to do so would compromise the ability of the city to get its work done, such as the discussion of pending litigation. And, I would emphasize, EVEN THEN, at some point down the road, when the discussion is no longer pending or sensitive, the public often has a right to know what that was about. It's called transparency in government.

I have little doubt that the new city manager and even Anderson really believe they are pursuing the correct course of action, unless its discovered there was something serious to hide. Often, there only tends to be smoke in these cases and no real fire, and I hope that is the case here.

A part of the problem rests on the city citizens themselves. They have to take a little responsibility for why leaders in East Ridge have felt this justified in attempting to limit transparency. As a whole, they do not make themselves a part of their local government. They show up at meetings in droves only when there is a hot issue on the table, and often not an issue, by the way, that has any real impact on the city's future. Someone got fired. Or somebody's property was annexed and they've rallied a bunch of friends. You know what I'm talking about.

The important questions do not get asked during the process of running their city, and leadership eventually becomes alarmed at almost any question asked. Leaders begin to feel its probably better that the public not know about certain things. Best not to get them riled up. Any wonder it has been said for the past 3 decades that East Ridge has a good ol' boy system of government that can't be cracked? That perception, true or not, will thrive when citizens as a whole are not intimately involved and when leaders limit transparency.

Curtis Adams understands this.

Meanwhile, I've watched as the individuals who do choose to be proactive become frustrated by their lack of support. They eventually become labeled trouble-makers, and sometimes there is truth to that because their last resort is to buck the system like an old mule, and they don't know what else to do. And I can't blame them.

I live literally yards from the East Ridge line. My wife and I do much of our shopping in East Ridge, I have clients in East Ridge. And I have always felt a softness towards the city. It has incredible potential. I believe it has the best community identity of any community or town within the greater Chattanooga area, and the fact that a quarterly magazine has served the city for the past six years suggests as much.

City leaders need to avoid the temptation of limiting their transparency, as painful as it can be at times. And citizens need to avoid complacency. Do East Ridge residents want to change their future for the better? Show up at council meetings for the next two years, ask questions about the process calmly and deliberately, and offer to help when applicable. It works, every time.

David Hamilton