City reaches compromise on public records access

In the spirit of compromise, the city of Augusta agreed Wednesday to open up the Procurement Department's public records, at least somewhat.

 

About an hour before a scheduled hearing in Richmond County Superior Court, city attorney Steve Shepard faxed opposing attorneys a proposed compromise.

The Association for Fair Government filed a court petition several months ago, alleging that access to public records has been blocked. The Augusta Chronicle joined the association on the issue.

Although the city filed a counterclaim against the association last month, alleging harassment and seeking attorney fees and punitive damages, it dropped the counterclaim this week.

The association's complaint about the city commission's documents posted on the city's Web site has been eliminated. The city blamed the absence of documents or altered agendas on a computer glitch.

The association's remaining issue is a complaint under the state's Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute. The law aims to prevent retaliatory suits intended to silence, intimidate or punish those who speak out about matters of public interest or concern.

On behalf of the city's commission clerk, a counterclaim against the association that was filed by private attorney Benjamin Allen remains. Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. said Wednesday that he would put a hold on the case pending further notice of progress toward a settlement.

The city's proposal to The Chronicle 's attorney, David Hudson, offers to make Procurement Department files available for one hour twice a week without any charge for supervision.

Mr. Hudson told the judge that he wanted time to consult with the newspaper's editors before entering into a settlement agreement.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.