In the more than 10 years that I have lived in Austell, I've always been struck by the fact that there is a large message board in front of City Hall whose words on it have never changed. It reads: "God Bless America." And God only knows how many years that same message has been there before I moved to Austell. Maybe as long as the current mayor has been in office.
While that message is a noble sentiment, is that really the best use of a prominent public space in Austell? This very visible location could be used in a host of productive ways to better inform Austell citizens of what's going on in their community. First thing that comes to mind is announcing when and where the next City Council meeting will take place, or any other governmental meetings to which the public is invited. Announcing community events could also be posted.
Why this has not been done is anybody's guess. Could it be just laziness or apathy on the part of city government? Or could it be a culture of not really wanting to engage the public as to what's going on the community and the operations of its local government? I would posit that it's probably a combination of the two.
Unfortunately, the lack of clear, pro-active communication on the part of City Hall has become Austell's trademark, of which the static message board is but a visible symptom. It is also in evidence on Austell's website, which is rarely updated, and has a dearth of useful information. In comparison to other cities in Cobb County, whose websites go out of their way to actively engage its citizens, Austell's website, in comparison, is but a sorry joke. In fact, if you wanted to get a copy of the agenda of the monthly city council meeting on the website, it wouldn't be there.
The bottom line is that since the reign of our current mayor, Austell has become an insular, stereotypical small southern town which shuns change, growth and progress. And the best way to keep things just the way they are is to communicate as little as possible with its residents, and indeed with the outside world.
The lack of openness and transparency in Austell is almost a textbook case of insular, inward looking government, where information is tightly controlled by its chief executive. In upcoming blogs I will suggest ways that Austell can break its information logjam and catch up with the 21st Century. And a good, albeit small way to start, is to use the aforementioned message board effectively.