Friday, May 15, 2015

Oconee County Administrative Officer Rescinds Order That Restricted Media Access of Department Heads

At Meeting

Oconee County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko said on Wednesday that he has rescinded his order that department heads limit their comments to the media.

Benko said he lifted the restriction on April 15, the day that the county released to me a copy of the email message Benko sent to department heads on April 3 telling them not to make statements to “the press” without clearing those statements in advance with him.

Benko, Left, And Greathouse
At Commission Meeting

Benko said in an email message sent on Wednesday afternoon that “at the Department Directors’ meeting, 4/15/15, I gave a full explanation why I issued it, and effective that day rescinded it.”

County Clerk Jane Greathouse told me earlier on Wednesday that the county had no email or any written record of the action by Benko.

Benko appears to have rescinded his directive orally.

First Open Records Response

Greathouse had notified me on April 15 that she had available documents that I had asked for in an open records request I filed with the county late in the evening of April 8.

Included in the documents, which I picked up at the Courthouse on April 17, was an email message from Benko to county department heads written at 5:03 p.m. on April 3.

In that email, Benko complained about statements in the media in the past six months.

“Moving forward,” Benko, wrote, “for the best of our organization, and presenting Oconee County in the best position, if you or your Department receive a request for a statement on County issues, request it in writing (email ok), staff it out, prepare the response, go over with me prior to me providing the response to the press.”

The email exchange I received indicated the restriction was directed in particular at Public Works Director Emil Beshara.

Second Open Records Response

I filed another open records request on May 10 asking for “the written or electronic record of any modifications to the policy Mr. Benko sent to Department Directors in his email of 5:03 p.m. on Friday, April 3, 2015, regarding Press Statements.”

I also asked to receive “any email or regular mail Mr. Benko sent to anyone or received from anyone regarding that policy.”

County Clerk Greathouse wrote me on Wednesday saying the county did not have any records “responsive to your Open Records Request.”

I forwarded that message to Benko, asking him if “the policy you spelled out in your April 3 email remains in place?”

Benko responded that it he had rescinded the policy.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Keep on keeping an eye on all of them -- you are our best hope for knowing what's going on with "our business".

Anonymous said...


Xardox said...

Well, what do you know? An official walks back a mistake publically.
Good sensibility, Mr. Benko.

Margaret Holt said...

Lee, I think it would be good if citizens in Oconee had a workshop or some sessions on the topic of protocols for meetings open to the public. Matt Leighninger's work is rich and thick on this topic.

Also, there are some useful guides from other places on effective public meetings. Like this one: