In the Brunswick News article below, the JIA attempts to explain why, until yesterday, it had failed to inform the public that it had issued a Request for Information (RFI) on June 30th regarding the upcoming revision of the Jekyll Island Master Plan, which is the island’s governing document and the source of official policy. That failure prompted IPJI to purchase a half-page of space in the Brunswick News to publicize the RFI [click here to see IPJI’s public notice] and led to the article below in which the JIA states that its failure to advise the public about the RFI was “an oversight.” You may judge for yourself if the Authority’s comments in the article indicate that receiving public input on the Master Plan’s revision is a high priority and that the JIA is doing its best to inform all interested parties about the RFI opportunity. On July 28, 2010, the JIA issued a series of public notice clarifying the place of public input in the Master Plan process and encouraging any individual or group to respond to the RFI. The JIA's Communications Office reported that due to an oversight on its part public notices were not sent out at the time the RFI was issued. To read more, click here.
Jekyll Island watchdog barking again
Group fears public input would be overlooked on master plan
The Brunswick News
By ERIKA CAPEK
A citizens group that has sparred with the Jekyll Island Authority over plans for revitalizing the state park now claims the agency is trying to duck public comment on development of its master plan.
The authority says it just didn't solicit comments the way the group would have liked.
When members of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island noticed that the agency had not notified the public that citizens could offer opinions on what should be in the master plan, other than by having a link on two websites, they decided to spread the word themselves.
Although authority officials say they are not required to publish the typical black-type-only public notice to solicit citizens' comments, the Initiative turned to colored type and a beach photograph in a newspaper ad that ran two columns wide and the full depth of a page to get attention.
Clearly, the group wanted people to know they could be heard.
"We believe it's the JIA's (Jekyll Island Authority) responsibility to do that," said Babs McDonald, chairperson of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island and an Athens resident. "It's important that people know they have the opportunity to give input about their state park."
But Eric Garvey, chief communications officer for the authority, said the authority rejects the suggestion that it is not open or interested in seeking public input.
"Their accusation that we're trying to limit input is completely untrue," Garvey said. "We're glad to receive public input all the time. The (Request for Information from the public) is structured so that professional organizations or groups can formally submit information to us for consideration."
Garvey said receiving comments from the general public is an ongoing process, and that the so-called request for information is more of a formal step, typically geared toward receiving information from organizations.
The authority has an announcement for a request for information related to the master plan, its governing document and statement of policy, on its website and on the website of the Georgia Procurement Office. The request was issued on June 30.
After it was brought to Garvey's attention that a public notice had not been sent out, Garvey said Thursday that with the busy Fourth of July holiday following, his office neglected to issue a press release or public notice.
"That was an oversight and my fault, and we will correct that immediately," Garvey wrote in an e-mail. He said he did not recall that the public notice had not gone out, and by the end of the day Thursday, a press release was issued.
"What we're after is an open, participatory process and transparent process," McDonald said. "Whenever a government entity goes off and appears to be doing something without full public participation, it makes you think they're doing something the public doesn't support."
David Egan, co-founder of the Initiative to Protect Jekyll Island, said revision of the master plan and getting input from everyone should be a top priority for the authority and not slip through the cracks because of a busy weekend.
"The fact that they did at least put out a press release is an admission that they should have done this earlier," Egan said. "We felt that this is a repeat of what we've been criticizing the JIA for the last five years: They involve the public after the fact. We think that the public should be involved in the process from Step One until the end."
The issue Egan has with the authority is with the process, not the substance. He applauds it for taking a fresh look at the master plan, which had not been updated since 2004.
The master plan, which will take at least 12 to 18 months to rework, is the top policy document for Jekyll Island and is used to a guide development and conservation activities on the state park.
Garvey said the request for information is the first step in gathering as much information as possible, in addition to surveys, public input sessions and other opportunities. As of Thursday, the deadline for submittals was extended to Sept. 17 from Aug. 27.
Among topics in the master plan is the definitions of the terms "developed" and "undeveloped" land. By state law, 65 percent of Jekyll must remain undeveloped. Another issue is the commercial interests and needs of the island, including the scale and type of economic development and redevelopment.