Dear Editor,

I would like to address my family, friends and the citizens of Charlton County. I am a fifth generation resident of Baker County, Florida. I have always considered Charlton County my second home. You all are our neighbors. I grew up fishing in the swamp and the St Marys River and camping from Emmaus Church, Simpson’s Landing to Traders Hill. I have relatives all over Charlton County. My mother’s mother was a Burnsed and her grandmother, a Reynolds. My father’s mother was a Thrift and her grandmother, a Sands. My five times great-grandfather, George Reynolds, had a homestead on the North Prong of the St Marys River on the Florida side of the St Marys and constructed the first bridge across the North prong off of County Road 185.  A bridge that we still use and call Reynolds Bridge to this day. I’m related to the Burnseds, Canadays, Mobleys, Reynolds, Thrifts, Sands and Stokes by blood and the Crewses, Chessers and Raulersons by marriage. I have always felt at home and welcomed in Charlton County. I recently had an experience in Folkston at your county commission meeting that made me feel like I was very unwelcome in Charlton County. I was made to feel like a complete stranger and as a member of the public and a citizen of these United States did not deserve or was not worthy of three minutes to address your County Commission Board during the public comment period of their meeting.

I went to the commission meeting on August 15 because I had received a copy of the agenda for that meeting and agenda item #6 was of great importance to me. I had with me a prepared statement to read into record and an official Consent Order to read into the record of that meeting during public comment. When item #20 on the agenda (Public Comment) came up, your chairman James E. Everett announced that only Charlton County residents could come to the podium and speak for three minutes and if you were not a Charlton County resident you could see the clerk for an index card and write your comment on the card and hand it back to the clerk because you would not be allowed to address the board for public comment at the podium. Gagging the public because they are not a resident of a county is absolutely absurd! The agenda says public comment, not Charlton County residents comment only. Their official agenda says -Public Comments (Please limit to three minutes). It does not say anything about being a resident or non resident of Charlton County. It says nothing about being black, white, blue or green nor did it include any restrictions on who could or could not speak during public comment. Government is suppose to be FOR the people and BY the people. County Government is not a private business or some hierarchy ruled by the commission as their private kingdom although I feel some in your county government think that. Your county manager Hampton Raulerson told Laura Early the Satilla River Keeper and Executive Director that the commissioners are there to make decisions and not to listen to public comments. Really?? Whom does Mr. Raulerson think elected the commission and whom does Mr. Raulerson think he works for? Apparently themselves. Gordon Jackson of the (Brunswick News) who has covered Charlton County government for 17 years has stated he has never witnessed such restrictions on silencing the public in Charlton County Commission meetings. Georgia Public Broadcast newsletter on August 17, the day after this commission meeting stated that county officials said they decided on this new ‘gag rule’ at this very meeting due to the ‘large’ crowd and they didn’t know how many were Charlton residents and by letting only residents speak it would move the meeting along a little faster and let them identify their residents.  WHEN did they decide that? At THIS meeting?? Did I fall asleep? Are your commissioners telepathic and some how discussed this among themselves before our very eyes without a peep from their vocal cords? I don’t know what you would call that, but I call that something that comes out of the back end of a bull! They absolutely DID NOT discuss making this change to the public comment period during this meeting. It was announced and sprung on the public when it came time for public comment and VERY apparent this decision was made prior to this meeting!  The ‘large’ crowd was there at 6:00 pm, the meeting started and there was no discussion of this sudden revelation that wow we have a ‘large’ crowd here tonight and we are going to have to find out who Charlton residents are by limiting who can speak and not let out of county residents speak in order to save time. What is the big deal about rushing a meeting or keeping a meeting short? I have attended many commissioner meeting in multiple counties in Georgia and Florida and have never been told I could not address the board during public comment because I did not live there. I have also been in commission meetings where 20 to 50 citizens or more have spoken during public comment and the meetings didn’t get over until the wee hours of the morning. I guess your commissioners have more important things to attend to other than county business and that’s the need to keep their meetings short. Your commissioners are the highest paid employees of your county. If you take their annual salary and divided it by the number of hours they ACTUALLY meet and work they are making hundreds of dollars per hour. Pretty good pay for a ‘part time’ job.

It’s a shame your chairman James E. Everett decided to gag and silence the majority of the public at that meeting. If I had been able to read and enter into record the documents I had with me it might have helped keep a little egg off of the commissioners faces when the dust settles over this premature proclamation of support for Twin Pines Mining that they unanimously voted for. Your commission has voted to support a company that is already breaking the law in Florida destroying wetlands without permits and dumping waste water without proper permitting. Sounds like a trustworthy and upstanding company to trust with the Okefenokee to me... The Okefenokee brings over 650,000 people a year to the swamp and those people spend money in your county. The swamp brings in millions in revenue each year. If it’s damaged and destroyed no amount of mining jobs or mining tax revenue to Charlton County will ever make up for that. EVER! 

Mark Lyons,

Baker County