The local attorney involved in negotiations to build an arena at Regency Mall has delivered his response to the Georgia Attorney General defending the arena authority’s decision to meet privately with four Augusta commissioners on Nov. 28.
Ed Enoch, attorney for Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority for 14 years, claims the authority was well within its rights under the “real estate acquisition” exception to the Georgia Open Meetings Act and could have commissioners in the meeting because the commission is being asked by mall owner Cardinal Management to abate taxes and would fund arena construction.
The Georgia Open Meetings Act requires all government business be conducted in the open, with just a few exceptions. Augusta resident David Dunagan filed the complaint based on a statement from Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson that allowing commissioners in amounted to giving “selective attendance rights” to the public.
Dunagan, who is seeking the Super District 10 seat on the Augusta Commission, said he opposes the authority building an arena at Regency Mall and hoped to void the authority’s vote to approve the deal after the private meeting with commissioners by filing the complaint.
The authority’s highly controversial decisions, prompted by a first set of terms obtained by Mayor Hardie Davis from mall owner Cardinal Management, appear to have met an end with the commission’s 7-1 vote this week to reject Cardinal’s latest offer to give the authority 10 acres in exchange for an arena, parking lot construction, tax abatements and other incentives tied to the surrounding 62 acres.
Enoch’s letter said with the Open Meetings Act lacking guidance about who can participate in a closed-door meeting, he looked to a 1998 Georgia Attorney General unofficial opinion that the Georgia General Assembly did not intend to limit who can attend but instead allowed the agencies to permit “only those persons whose presence is consistent with an applicable exception” to the act. It cites examples of a property owner, real estate agent, landowner’s attorney or involved staff member.
Asked to respond, Hudson said the four commissioners unlikely qualify and had no reason to be there superior to that of the general public, but that the question is now moot since the commission rejected the offer.
“They were not parties - Augusta-Richmond County would be the party. They don’t have authority as just four members to make any decisions,” Hudson said. “There is nothing they could do or not do depending on whether or not the public is there to listen as well.”
Jennifer Colangelo, over the attorney general’s office government mediation program, said Monday after obtaining Dunagan’s complaint and Enoch’s response she would review the matter before taking further action.