CONYERS -- The Republican candidate for chairman of the Rockdale Board of Commissioners weighed in Tuesday on the county's decision not to tape forums or debates to be aired on public access Channel 23.
Jason Hill, who is challenging incumbent Chairman Richard Oden, charged that the decision not to tape political forums is not based on the need for a policy, as stated by the county, but is designed to benefit Oden's campaign. Hill noted that taping and airing forums on Channel 23 has been a common county practice until this year.
Tonya Parker, director of Community Affairs and Innovative Programs for the county, said Monday her department is in the process of developing a policy regarding taping forums and other events to air on Channel 23. She said a policy is needed in order to treat all such requests fairly and equitably.
"At best, (the county's decision) is politically motivated as the chairman doesn't want to have that debate;" said Hill, "at worst, it is plain and simply trying to keep another point of view, different from his own, off the local community channel."
Oden was out of town Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.
The debate over whether the county would or would not tape such events developed during the primary election season after the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce was told that the county would not tape a forum sponsored by the Chamber.
An email sent by Parker to the Chamber in June indicated that the county already had a policy in place that prohibited taping forums.
"As far as taping the forum, we won't be able to do so unfortunately because it is now board policy to not film these types of events based on legal review of our agreement with Comcast," Parker wrote. She added that despite what the county had done in the past, "It's the current leadership's interpretation of the agreement."
Parker said Wednesday that her earlier interpretation of the Comcast agreement was "very general" and acknowledged that she was incorrect in her assessment that the agreement would not allow taping of outside events. She said she now understood from County Attorney Qader Baig that the Comcast contract would allow taping of events if that is what the county chooses to do.
Hill, who previously served as Post 1 commissioner, said he was disturbed that the decision not to tape the Chamber forum was passed off as a policy issue "when no written policy exists. And that the reason for not taping them was because of a legal review that does not exist in written form. At least neither existed when I asked for them."
Hill went on to say that he had asked Commissioner JaNice Van Ness about the purported policy and she knew nothing about it.
"If it was board policy, shouldn't the whole board know? The story continues to change as this decision has become more public," he said.
Van Ness said earlier this week that, in her position as commissioner, she would sponsor an upcoming Chamber forum that is still in the planning stages.
Van Ness also said she is working with Parker to develop a policy regarding taping events other than county functions.
Hill said he views taping the forums as a community service and believes the practice should continue. "I know we did it when I was on the Board of Commissioners, because we felt it was the right thing to do and a service to the community," he said. "I was always proud of the work that I did as a commissioner and stood behind the decisions I made. I was never hesitant to discuss those decisions with or in front of anyone. Of course, if I had made some of the decisions the current chairman has made, I would not want to have to defend them in a debate with me either."