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Airport Should Dump Anti-Whistleblower Rule

By   /   August 30, 2011  /   Comments

Through his recent actions, Sanford Hilsman seems to be precisely what this community needs in a leadership role; someone who is not afraid to confront troubling matters head-on.

In public, to boot.

An Albany-Dougherty Aviation Commission member, Hilsman publicly expressed his concern this week about a practice that prevents Southwest Georgia Regional Airport employees from discussing airport matters with certain people without sharing the discussion’s details with the airport director. Broaching this matter was a prickly thing for Hilsman to do; it would have been much easier for him to have done what most public officials to do: just go with the flow.

Airport Director Yvette Aehle says that her free speech-quashing practice is a matter of official, written airport policy, although the policy hasn’t been officially adopted.

What a bad policy it is – unless the aim is to quash Constitutional rights and the opportunity for a whistleblower to surface. If that’s the case, the policy is brilliant. Certainly, it’s deviant, which is business as usual for the City of Albany.

The policy also is flawed because it’s not a policy at all because it has not been adopted by the Albany City Commission or the Aviation Commission. And the policy is inherently sketchy because the policy specifically prohibits employees from discussing airport matters with “elected and appointed” officials. The truth is the truth no matter who is telling it and who is receiving it? As such, why have a policy pertaining to discussions with some people and not others?

Here is the policy:

During your work duties, you may be asked questions by such persons as the City Manager, members of the Board of City Commissioners or members of the Aviation Commission when the Airport Director is not present. While you are permitted to give them information, it is important that you relay the details of your discussion and the information given to the Airport Director to ensure that:  (1) the proper person was asked the question; (2) the information that the person gave was accurate; (3) if the information given was not accurate, what correct information needs to be conveyed to the official; (4) if the information was not accurate, the accurate information is shared with the employee so correct information can be given out in the future; and (5) that same information can be circulated to other Commissioners. It is important that the Airport Director knows about these conversations so that he/she is up to speed with inquiries and does not appear to be left “out of the loop” or not current with the conversation.

After discussing the matter publicly (albeit briefly) at Hilsman’s request at its meeting this week, the Aviation Commission kicked everyone out of the room with the notion of discussing a “personnel matter” in private. Aehle says that City Attorney Nathan Davis, to his credit, did his job and advised the commission that doing so would be a Georgia Open Meetings Act violation, so the executive session quickly ceased.

In addition to admonishing the Aviation Commission to dump its anti-free speech policy, we encourage the board to seek out reasons to have all of its discussions in public, rather than pursue opportunities – even when it’s legal — to go into executive session. (We wonder: If Davis would not have been present at the meeting, would the board had continued with its illegal executive session, or would the Aviation Commission members have proceeded to violate the Open Meetings Law and thus commit a misdemeanor crime?)

Albany City Commissioners appoint Aviation Commission members. It’s election season, so we’ll be watching to see which incumbents and challengers have the gumption to try to correct this deficiency at the airport.

Kevin By Kevin Hogencamp

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About the author

Owner / Editor / Writer

Tom Knighton is the publisher of The Albany Journal. In November, 2011, he became the first blogger to take over a newspaper anywhere in the world. In August of 2012, he made the difficult decision to take the Journal out of print circulation and become an online news agency, a first for the Albany area.

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