Dispatches from government reporter Johnny Edwards

UPDATED: Open Records law violations continue

(Editor's note: Four and a half hours after I posted this blog, a staff attorney for the city e-mailed me the records I've been seeking. See update below.)

I'm starting to worry about the folks at the Augusta Housing and Community Development Department.

After a week of bad publicity over their treatment of a Goshen resident who was denied a copy of a stimulus application, the department just violated the open records law again, failing to respond to my request for e-mail exchanges by the three-day deadline even after I mentioned it in Saturday's column.

Not that everybody reads it, but still, how much heads-up does a government office need?

On Wednesday at 12:50 p.m., I sent a request to Director Chester Wheeler and Housing and Economic Recovery Act Manager Shawn Edwards asking for all e-mails between Mr. Edwards and Becky Shealy. Mrs. Shealy, of course, was on the brunt end of two open records law violations by the department this month – one when Mr. Edwards told her by e-mail that she couldn’t have a copy of a stimulus application, and another when she was given an incomplete copy the next day. Mrs. Shealy had already shown me her e-mail chain with Mr. Edwards, but to be thorough I wanted to see what the city's version looked like.

Under Georgia law, a response to my request was due no later than Monday. It's Tuesday now, and I’ve received nothing. No records, no letters, no phone calls, no explanation, nothing.

I know they got my e-mail. Fifteen minutes after I sent it, Mr. Edwards wrote back and told me I could pick up a copy of the stimulus application at the department’s front desk. He didn’t say anything about my request for the e-mails. I responded that I’d be happy to get the application, but what I’d asked for was the exchanges between him and Mrs. Shealy.

I haven't heard from him since. Or from Mr. Wheeler.

This is unbelievable. I'm concerned that these two may have stopped communicating with the outside world. Or maybe they're under the impression that I'm just a mirage, the unfortunate result of some bad beef or an underdone potato. In my column Saturday, when the request was just two days old, I pointed out that all they had to do to accommodate me was find the e-mails, press "forward," type in my e-mail address, and hit "send." Still no luck.

I don't need to call Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson to rule on this one. They've bucked the law again, apparently having learned nothing from the Shealy affair. 

And another thing. When I read through the stimulus application last week, there were redacted portions on the letters from Georgia Bank & Trust Company and Capitol City Bank & Trust Company, as well as on documents titled “Individual Fact Sheet” and “DUNS Numbers.” Redacting is sort of like highlighting, only it’s done with a black marker.

I e-mailed Mr. Wheeler on Friday asking him to cite the legal justifications for withholding the information. He hasn’t responded to that either.

The city needs to seriously consider Mr. Hudson’s offer to give a tutorial to employees on the open records law. As it is, the Housing and Community Development Department is making a mockery of it.

TUESDAY EVENING UPDATE: At 6:13 p.m., about four and a half hours after I posted this blog, staff attorney Kenneth Bray e-mailed me a response – a letter along with the Aug. 10 e-mails between Mr. Edwards and Mrs. Shealy. They appear identical to what Mrs. Shealy provided me. While this fulfills my request, it does not change the fact that the department again violated the law by failing to respond within three days.

So a formal request didn't work, a print column didn't work, but a blog did.

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paulwheeler
105
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paulwheeler 08/25/09 - 03:44 pm
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Has any of this been

Has any of this been forwarded to the State Attorney General's Office?  Wouldn't that be the office to handle the prosecution of a case like this?

Little Lamb
40104
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Little Lamb 08/25/09 - 03:49 pm
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The problem with the GORA

The problem with the GORA law is that there are no penalties for violating the law.  No jail time, no fines.  It's a toothless law.  It is much like city "sunshine" laws regarding open meetings.  Cities violate their own and their state's sunshine laws all the time because there are no ramifications for violating.  That's what happens when politicians write laws that limit their own actions.  They make sure there are no penalties.

Johnny Edwards
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Johnny Edwards 08/25/09 - 04:18 pm
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Violating the open records

Violating the open records law is a misdemeanor, but you are right, the law is toothless. No one has ever been jailed over an open meetings or open records law in Georgia that I know of. Prosecution would be up to the Solicitor's office. Were a city to be fined, that would be taking taxpayer money out of the coffers.

mad_max
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mad_max 08/25/09 - 04:59 pm
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Well, apparently OUR

Well, apparently OUR government is against us, and apparently the law is against us. Maybe we should just start administering our own punishment when they violate the law. If a male refuses to complay with the records act, we should haul off and punch him in the nose. If a female refuses we should slap the pee out of her. I would love to visit the municipal building and watch the rosey cheeks with wet britches and the nose splints walk the halls. Being able to punch and slap a couple of our arrogant idiots would be the first time I felt like I got any benefit for my tax dollars in the 25 years I have lived here. Like I have said before, really stupid people and wrongdoers are the only ones afraid of the open records act. Stupid people because they assume they have made a mistake, and wrongdoers because, well, they know they are wrong. They develop a "under siege" mentality and that pretty well describes our local government from the mayor  and commissioners down to the the clerks and jerks. Especially our totally incompetent city attorney.

angie020461
0
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angie020461 08/25/09 - 05:28 pm
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s

s

Brad Owens
3637
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Brad Owens 08/25/09 - 05:34 pm
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That was pretty funny

That was pretty funny Max...really funny in fact. 'slap the pee' HAHAHAHA

Lilmikey
0
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Lilmikey 08/25/09 - 05:42 pm
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Why do you worry about

Why do you worry about this?  The chronicle does not respond to email querys either!

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 08/25/09 - 06:08 pm
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Probably because you send

Probably because you send them twice, like your comments. Shmuck...

HillGuy
7
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HillGuy 08/25/09 - 06:11 pm
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Butch Palmer just officially

Butch Palmer just officially announced on the radio that he will be running for the District 1 commission seat.

Johnny Edwards
0
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Johnny Edwards 08/25/09 - 06:55 pm
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Well, I got the records now.

Well, I got the records now. See the update above.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 08/25/09 - 07:48 pm
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So what now? Is this going

So what now? Is this going to be an ongoing thing with the city?

used2Bjonny
1
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used2Bjonny 08/25/09 - 08:30 pm
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Now, now, let's not get all

Now, now, let's not get all wee wee'd up about this...

Asitisinaug
3
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Asitisinaug 08/25/09 - 09:18 pm
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The only thing I think is

The only thing I think is unbelieveable is that you think not getting what you requested is unbelieveable - it should be expected.  Now, what is unbelievable is that you finally got it today.

disssman
6
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disssman 08/25/09 - 09:36 pm
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The basic laws of any city

The basic laws of any city and town are supposed to be found in their code.  Unfortunately our city code hasn't been updated in many years folks.  The code should address how a request for info is processed and the timelines for doing such.  The current city code resides in the legal department and if you want a laugh just open it and start reading.  What I find absolutely absurd is the fact that Ed McIntire is a member of the Aviation committee still.  Another section for the DDA clearly sytates how many members they can have by Georgia law and then goes on and lists more members than the law allows.  I would think our elected officials would take a few minutes to read that document and then add the changes like Gas cards for commissioners as they are needed. 

demented dave
0
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demented dave 08/25/09 - 09:51 pm
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I like onions.

I like onions.

Bubba442
0
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Bubba442 08/26/09 - 12:03 pm
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  Typical govt. work

  Typical govt. work ethics.What this?What do I do?Can I do this?I'll get it  after break.Isn't today payday?

eachoneteachone
0
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eachoneteachone 08/26/09 - 09:59 pm
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Mr. Palmer was on talk radio

Mr. Palmer was on talk radio 1230 AM and he asked what listeners thought about putting restrictions on Richmond County Government employees. He asked what people thought about requiring Richmond County Employees to have to reside in Richmond County. He said that current employees would be grand fathered in. Personally I like this idea.

HillGuy
7
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HillGuy 08/27/09 - 02:45 am
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I believe that's the way it

I believe that's the way it used to be in the old city.

Taylor B
5
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Taylor B 08/27/09 - 09:19 am
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What does hiring residents

What does hiring residents of richmond county have to do with anything? What is wrong with hiring the best person for the job? These are the grand ideas of Butch? Man, everytime I start to think I like this guy, then BOOM, I hear stuff like this. The taxpayers of this county deserve the best their money can get, and where employees live is THEIR business.

Little Lamb
40104
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Little Lamb 08/28/09 - 07:44 pm
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You have a good point,

You have a good point, Dissman, that there are old laws on Augusta's books that are not enforced.  And there are WAY out of date things on the city's web site.  But when asking for city records, we are not using a city ordinance.  Instead we are using a state law, the Georgia Open Records Act, sometimes abbreviated GORA.  The city violates it often, but no one is ever punished.  Fred Russell never worries.

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