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OPINION Marty Harbin: The new face of governmental secrecy in the Georgia State Senate

By Walter Geiger It didn’t take long for freshman District 16 state senator Marty Harbin to forget about his constituencies here in Lamar and Pike County and sidle up to big government and governmental secrecy in a big way. At the behest of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), Sen. Harbin voted in favor of allowing local governments to post notices online at any website of their own choosing rather than in legal organ newspapers. At issue are notices of local governmental contracts like those for paving and resurfacing projects, construction work, pest control, tree removal, etc. At present, such notices are published in your newspaper at nominal cost. Lamar County commissioners spent $180 during all of 2014 having its public notices published. Every public notice is put online for free by every legal organ newspaper in the state. In addition, the state’s existing public notice website, www.georgiapublicnotice. com, is powered by the Georgia Press Association and available to anyone worldwide free of charge. Even the senators on the committee that voted on this preliminarily last week admitted the current notices cost counties very little money. This is not about the money. This is all about governmental secrecy. ACCG is made up of county commissions, individual commissioners and those who suck up to them in order to get the aforementioned project contracts. As far as all those parties are concerned, the fewer people who see advertisements for projects and bids the better. Just think about it. If you are a small local businessman or woman with a paving, construction or pest control operation, you are much more likely to see such notices in your local newspaper where you have seen them for generations than on some vague government website. You know when your newspaper hits the streets and you know where in the newspaper to read such notices. This move to online notices only is designed to make the entire process less transparent. Have you ever easily navigated a government website or easily conducted your business on a government website? I didn’t think so. Governments typically don’t do websites well. The Obamacare debacle is one of many perfect examples. Government doesn’t do anything better than it can and has been done in the private sector. There’s one exception: secrecy. They are the authorities when it comes to shutting you out of the process and withholding information. There are some real public servants holding state level elected offices but those offices are also full of many self-serving pols. Sen. Harbin refused to answer my phone calls and e-mails on this matter last week. Once in the committee hearing, he heard from several publishers. When he could not win the debate on argumentative merit, he lashed out and personally insulted and rebuked those who did not share his opinion. Let him learn, the excellent horse moves before the whip even touches its back. But, we shouldn’t be surprised by the senator’s actions. Harbin and his predecessor come from Fayette County. If they win in Fayette, they win districtwide. If you live in Lamar or Pike counties, Harbin doesn’t need your vote and it shows. These guys show up here to kiss babies each campaign season then they spend the next two years basically telling you to kiss off. With just over two months under the Gold Dome under his belt, Marty Harbin has become the new face of governmental secrecy in the Georgia State Senate. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette and Pike County Journal Reporter.

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