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Summary of recent Georgia newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:

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Jan. 28

The Macon Telegraph on the well-being index:

As our state lawmakers deliberate in Atlanta, they should look into the data of the latest Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index just released. It measures through 2.3 million surveys how Americans "feel about and experience their daily lives."

The index is broken down into five areas: purpose, social, financial, community and physical. Why is such an index important? It's another tool in the toolbox businesses can use to decide where to locate. According to the index, "Employers across the country are implementing well-being improvement initiatives to increase their competitiveness and create meaningful differentiation."

How does Georgia fare when compared with other states? We are 41st and dropping. In 2014, we were at 31st. What's changed? One of the five measures, "Social," is defined in the index as having "supportive relationships and love in your life." Georgia is next to last in that category. Certainly lawmakers can't do anything about that, but the state also ranks 41st in "Community": "Liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community." The state can do something about that, but it's hard to do when 400,000-plus citizens don't have medical coverage and in many communities health care is more than a golden hour away while dollars that could expand coverage here are headed to other states.

Online: http://www.macon.com/

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Feb. 2

The Valdosta Daily Times on executive sessions:

Executive sessions must not be used to conceal the people's business.

Closed meetings are only legal for a few reasons.

Talking about anything that is not exempt from the Georgia Open Meetings Act behind closed doors is a violation of the law.

Any time a city council, county commission, planning commission, board of education or hospital authority meets, it must hold its deliberations out in the open, for everyone to hear.

In addition, any committee formed by any of those governing bodies must conduct its discussions out in the open.

Executive sessions are never required of any governing body.

The city council, county commission, planning commission board of education and hospital authority can legally talk about personnel issues, real estate transactions and litigation in open public meetings.

Closed meetings are allowed, but not required, to discuss certain aspects of those three things, but the legal authority to do so is very limited.

The law itself says that the exceptions to Georgia's open government laws must be interpreted narrowly.

The limitations on those executive session discussions are:

. Real estate transactions — but only to discuss a lease or the sale of a specific piece of property;

. Litigation — but only to discuss legal strategy with an attorney regarding an existing lawsuit or a letter of intent to sue;

. Personnel issues — but only issues involving individual government workers provided no evidence is received against the employee and no personnel policy is discussed.

If during a closed meeting the discussion goes beyond these three narrow areas, the person presiding over the meeting must stop the discussion immediately.

After the closed meeting the individual presiding over the meeting must sign a legal affidavit that the discussions never went beyond these three narrow areas.

Then, anything discussed behind closed doors that needs to be voted on must be disclosed in an open meeting.

For example, if a council, commission, board or hospital authority discusses hiring an employee in executive session, when they reconvene in the open public meeting, they must tell who they are hiring and for what position as part of the motion preceding the public vote.

That's what the law requires.

The city council, county commission, planning commission, board of education or hospital authority cannot discuss the Open Meetings Act behind closed doors.

Discussions about whether or not a discussion is allowed in executive session must take place in an open public meeting.

To be even more clear, if there is any doubt about whether or not something can be deliberated in executive session, that debate itself has to be open to the public, even if it is being discussed with the attorney.

It is also important to point out that the presence of an attorney does not authorize a closed meeting.

Policies, procedures, daily operations and finances cannot be discussed in executive session by city council, county commission, planning commission, school board or the hospital authority.

Online: http://www.valdostadailytimes.com/

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Feb. 2

The Brunswick News on fireworks laws:

It should come as little surprise to anyone who has been around for the Fourth of July or New Year's Eve celebrations that three state legislators, including Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, are sponsoring changes to the state's fireworks law.

The law, which allows Georgians to shoot fireworks in every city and community in the state, has been around for less than a year but is already drawing punches and proposals that could lead to major changes in the new law.

For the most part, Rep. Atwood and others want more local control on where and when fireworks can be set off. Right now, mayors and city commissioners, as well as county commissioners, have no say in this. State law permits rockets to be launched and firecrackers to be exploded most everywhere in Georgia.

In Pooler, north of Savannah, that can be a problem. Several fires there were attributed to fireworks this past year.

Rep. Atwood is one who believes in more local control.

He feels cities and counties ought to be able to declare "no fireworks zones," regardless of what occasion is being observed. It can be a nightmare in cities where buildings are so close together.

He is right. Lawmakers from West Georgia should not be telling communities in East Georgia where and when they can set off bangs and booms. By the same token, East Georgia lawmakers should not set proper fireworks launching times for West Georgia.

In South Carolina, state law allows cities and counties to make their own choices. In cities like Charleston, for example, fireworks are banned. They are perfectly legal in the unincorporated areas of Charleston County.

That could happen here, of course, and should, if the city feels it is necessary.

Online: http://www.thebrunswicknews.com/

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