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Blackbox Special Report: Part VI

Transparency a priority at Johns Creek



JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – These days, most city residents don’t ask, they demand transparency in their government. In Johns Creek, the City Council and staff have taken the professional approach to try to ensure the public is aware and involved in the city’s affairs.

It was not always so. In the not too distant past, I could not walk into City Hall and ask to speak to a department head about a story I was working on. I had to ask for permission from the city manager to do so and would have to narrowly define the nature of my business.

That went for telephoning and email as well. That is hard on reporters who work on deadlines and need something explained or clarified with a deadline hovering nearby.

I look at that as a red flag that it is more important to control the message than it is to get accurate information out.

Today, I don’t feel any compunction to call any city official to get the information I need. That is critical for the media to disseminate news in a timely fashion. After all, they don’t call the Herald and oldspaper. It’s a newspaper and we want to be timely and accurate.

I also note the number of citizen committees the city is fond of using. It helps the seven members of the City Council keep their fingers on the pulse of the public. They get an idea of what people are thinking with parks, business licenses, public art, signs and more. Each of these had ad hoc committees to study ideas or problems and make recommendations to the city.

This is another sign of a healthy civic complexion. Tapping into the public in search of talent also produces leadership. No city can have too much of that.

Recently, I was at a public meeting on the widening of McGinnis Ferry and Jones Bridge roads. Ostensibly the meeting was to get feedback on the city’s ideas for softening the effects of widening the two roads.

The meeting quickly turned into a “Why is this happening and how can we stop it?” meeting. Residents did not understand why this was happening or why the city had not been more forthcoming about these projects.

Now having written numerous stories about these projects, I know the city has not hidden anything from anybody. But for many, this meeting was a wake-up call, and now their full attention is lasered in.

The City Council said all right, we are going back to square one and meet with groups affected by the two projects to hear what they have to say and to explain why these projects are coming.

The city did not hide. It did not steamroll. Officials realized the public was only just waking up to what had been the subject of many meetings and discussions in workshops and council meetings – all of which are televised.

It may not be the answers people want to hear, but they are getting the information behind the decisions.

An aside here. Few people will subject themselves to watching two-hour council meeting unless they were paid to do it, as I am. But you can scan the council agenda and easily find the bookmarked item that interests you to keep informed.

Say it is an hour every two weeks – that is how often the City Council meets. But can’t you Tivo “Dancing with the Stars” and participate in the community where you live?

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