Georgia open records law revision

There seems to be disagreement about access to open records in civil suits, regarding changes Attorney General Sam Olens proposes to Georgia’s Open Records Act. There are other issues, as well.

Jim Galloway wrote for the AJC on 1 Sep 2011, Sam Olens, Mike Bowers at odds over change to Open Records Act,

At issue is House Bill 397, which was drafted by Olens and received its first public hearing at the state Capitol this week. One provision in the bill would prohibit those who file lawsuits against state or local governments from using the Open Records Act to obtain records for use in court.
Bowers has successfully used open records to win a lawsuit on behalf of fired librarians. The proposed law would prevent such uses. Olens said:
“What we’re trying to do is incorporate past judicial decisions so we’re all on the same page,” Olens said. “When you’re suing the government, you should have no other advantage that you would when you’re suing a private party.”

The current Georgia sunshine law has two parts: open records and open meetings.

The Georgia Open Meetings Act,
which governs which governmental meetings are open to the public, can be found at O.C.G.A. § 50-14-1 through 50-14-6.
The Georgia Open Records Act,
which governs which government records are to be open for public inspection, can be found at O.C.G.A. § 50-18-70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, through 50-18-76.
(Those links are to old copies at justia.com; the current official copy of the Georgia Code is through an incredibly opaque Lexis-Nexis interface that seems to have no way to link directly to a given section.)

The proposed law is House Bill 397: summary and PDF.

This is one part that I think elected officials are objecting to:

(C) The gathering of or communications between more than two but less than a quorum of the members of the governing body of an agency or persons appointed by those members to serve in their stead if the primary purpose of that gathering is to evade or avoid the quorum requirements for conducting a meeting while discussing or conducting official business.
What if they attend church together or ride in a car to Atlanta for the Bird Supper?

Recordings are still explicitly allowed:

(c) The public at all times shall be afforded access to meetings declared open to the public pursuant to subsection (b) of this Code section. Visual and sound recording during open meetings shall be permitted.
I think that old LCBOC minutes are in violation of this section:
(B) The regular minutes of a meeting subject to this chapter shall be promptly recorded and such records shall be open to public inspection once approved as official by the agency or its committee, but in no case later than immediately following its next regular meeting; provided, however, that nothing contained in this chapter shall prohibit the earlier release of minutes, whether approved by the agency or not. Said minutes shall, at a minimum, include the names of the members present at the meeting, a description of each motion or other proposal made, and a record of all votes. The name of each person voting for or against a proposal shall be recorded and in all other cases it shall be presumed that the action taken was approved by each person in attendance unless the minutes reflect the name of the persons voting against the proposal or abstaining.
Because for a long time they did not record who voted for or against motions.

There are still a long list of meetings that are exceptions including staffing, land purchase, adoptions, hospital discussions about abortion, etc.

On Open Records, public documents will be defined to be:

‘Public document’ means all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, tapes, photographs, computer based or generated information, or similar material in the possession of an agency or in the possession of a private person or entity when such documents have been transferred to it by an agency for storage or future governmental use or have been generated pursuant to a formal or informal agreement with an agency to provide a governmental service that might otherwise be provided by an agency.
So, we should be able to get the original, complete spread sheets from the county’s Finance Director and the Chairman cannot forbid it.

There’s more but those are a few interesting aspects. It will be interesting to see if the legislature does anything when they re-convene in January.

-jsq

1 thought on “Georgia open records law revision

  1. George Boston Rhynes

    September 14, 2011
    1st Posted: Monday May 10, 2010, “GEORGE BOSTON ADDRESSED VALDOSTA MAYOR JOHN FRETTTI, COUNCIL AND ATTENDING CITIZENS.”
    http://123valdosta.blogspot.com/2010/05/valdosta-city-council-resonds-to.html
    Mayor John Fretti, and Valdosta 1860 City Charter Displayed! Extracted from “Valdsota City Council Letter” Dated May 4, 2010, Page 3, question Number #5b.
    Mayor John Fretti and Council Response: “When a new charter is adopted by the General Assembly, the previous charter is replaced and repealed in its entirety. You would have to define MENTALITY. The old charter is the historical first that created the city of Valdosta and WILL BE DISPLAYED AS SUCH.”
    The Old Valdosta City Charter of 1860 was DISPLAYED on the wall in Valdosta City Hall leading into the Municipal Court Room of Judge Edwards. That is until it was relunctantly removed in MARCH 2004.
    Morover several (WHITE) council members voted against its removal. We can only ask Why?
    It read as follows: In Article 100, Section XI, it read: THAT THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL SHALL PASS ALL PROPER AND NECESSARY LAWS AND ORDINANCES FOR THE CONTROL OF SLAVES AND FREE PERSONS OF COLOR IN SAID TOWN AND SUPPRESS AND ABATE ALL NUISANCES ARRIVING FROM HOGS, DOGS, HORSES, OR OTHER STOCK STRAYING AT LARGE IN SAID TOWN, OR FROM OTHER CAUSES.”
    Yet our Mayor stated in his letter on May 4, 2010. “The old charter is the historic first that created the City of VALDOSTA and will be DISPLAYED as SUCH. END!
    Just though local citizens might want to know!
    Georg Boston Rhynes
    Valdosta, Georgia

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