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Augusta alters records request policy

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A barrier blamed for blocking the public's access to information about Augusta's government operations has come down.

City Administrator Fred Russell removed it with a stroke of his pen Thursday, undoing an 8-month-old administrative rule that had routed all records requests -- no matter how routine -- through the Law Department.

The new policy, drafted by Interim General Counsel Andrew MacKenzie, takes effect Wednesday. It gives discretion to department heads to handle requests on their own, cautioning them in strong language that it's their responsibility to comply with the law and that they face legal and disciplinary action if they don't.

At the same time, if a department head has questions about the legality of turning over specific data or filling cumbersome requests, the policy gives them the option of turning the request over to city attorneys. Department heads were trained on the new procedures during a meeting Thursday, Russell said.

"They're going to be encouraged to make some decisions on their own," he said.

In many ways, what's new is old; a similar system was laid out in the city's open records policy from 2008, albeit in less-definitive language. Russell overturned that policy last year at the behest of former General Counsel Chiquita Johnson.

Her tenure as chief legal adviser ended in January with a forced resignation over several performance issues.

Russell said he made the change previously because of the volume of requests, particularly those stemming from ongoing litigation. He said he had concerns that different departments responded inconsistently.

Funneling everything through the Law Department alleviated that. But since then, Russell said, the city has learned how much work that creates for the lawyers.

Concerns about the policy's effect on the flow of public information were noted in columns and editorials by The Augusta Chronicle throughout 2009. Georgia Press Association and Chronicle attorney David Hudson said the system not only created delays, but Johnson's legal department seemed to look for every conceivable way to deny requests.

The new policy is "a breath of fresh air," he said Tuesday.

"The bottom line is that Augusta citizens should be pleased with the new policy," Hudson said.

Web Site's Transparency Lauded

The records policy change comes on the heels of the city's Web site garnering a "Sunny Award" from Sunshine Review, a nonprofit advocating government transparency. Augusta was recognized for scoring in the top 1 percent among 5,000 state and local government Web sites graded by the organization.

The city's Web site received an A-minus, an improvement over the C-minus it received from SunshineReview.org last year.

This year, the site earned accolades for posting budget information, audits, contracts, tax information, meeting minutes, agendas and commissioners' phone numbers, among other things.

It received only one red mark for posting that the city is a member of the taxpayer-funded Association County Commissioners of Georgia lobbying association, but failing to disclose information on lobbying by the city.

-- Johnny Edwards, staff writer

The policy

Read the full text of Augusta's new open-records policy [PDF]

Comments (11) Add comment
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deekster
24
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deekster 04/30/10 - 04:53 am
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"Point of Service

"Point of Service Management". Who gave them the new book? Will they use same book? It says millions in private business. It eliminates levels of overlapping responsibilities. Does a philosophy of management have a place in Dysfunction Junction? NOT. Another smoke screen to keep the "mushrooms" happy. In the dark and eating feces.

justus4
113
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justus4 04/30/10 - 06:07 am
0
0
This is a set-up. The first
Unpublished

This is a set-up. The first minority supervisor that makes a so-called "decision" about releasing any gov't documents will be run out of town. And giving them so-called "training" for one day is a good joke, because the legalities are overwhelming - even for those who are in the profession. Yep, this will prove to be a nightmare for U know who.

themaninthemirror
0
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themaninthemirror 04/30/10 - 07:09 am
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I usually do not respond to

I usually do not respond to Justus comments, but according to the posts he has made this morning, a minority brotha does not stand a chance! Well the way I see it, under Obamanomics, the white brotha's don't stand a chance either.

Harrisburg Homeowner
0
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Harrisburg Homeowner 04/30/10 - 09:44 am
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I disagree with Justus4. He

I disagree with Justus4. He just'us wants to keep Augusta-Richmond County politics where he likes it--in an unfavorable light. This way, he can continue to rail against it. I am starting to notice positive changes unfolding in the Commission and in other departments as well. This ruling is yet another positive change that will help to lead A-RC out of the hole it has dug itself into. Keep up the good work, city commissioners! We applaud your efforts!

truth_be_told
231
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truth_be_told 04/30/10 - 09:56 am
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I believe, unlike justus4,

I believe, unlike justus4, that minority supervisors are just as qualified to dispense information as others. If you know otherwise, justus4, let us know who should go.

OJP
7730
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OJP 04/30/10 - 10:39 am
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justus4, The legalities are

justus4,

The legalities are by no means overwhelming: respond with the requested documents or with a timeline of their release (due to volume) within 3 business days.

If the Department head has any question as to whether the documents exist, should be turned over, or can be turned over, the request will be forwarded to the legal department.

Kudos to Mr. MacKenzie for this move. Access to public records just got easier in Augusta.

OJP

jack
10
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jack 04/30/10 - 10:47 am
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Justus4, I sure would hate to

Justus4, I sure would hate to live in your dark world of suspicion and racism. The law is quite clear and not hard to comply with. One day's training should be more than enough and hopefully stop the stone walling by some Augusta government heads.

dstewartsr
20393
Points
dstewartsr 04/30/10 - 11:17 am
0
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Funny thing; while Justus

Funny thing; while Justus rails against whites, finding oppression and device in every corner, his post reads he believes black supervisors are not competent to make decisions. His tone is like some old segregationist, rather than an empowered U know who.

Brad Owens
4906
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Brad Owens 04/30/10 - 12:29 pm
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dstewartsr, HIGH FIVE! Brad

dstewartsr,

HIGH FIVE!

Brad

Harrisburg Homeowner
0
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Harrisburg Homeowner 04/30/10 - 12:43 pm
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Brad & Dstewartsr, high five

Brad & Dstewartsr, high five together!

corgimom
38299
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corgimom 05/02/10 - 01:18 pm
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Hey, didn't Chiquita Banana

Hey, didn't Chiquita Banana make that ruling? And she wasn't a U know who. Yeah, dstewart, Justus really does suffer from a lack of confidence in minority officials. Sad.

I find it so difficult to believe that Justus would not want to make public records open, especially when he just got done saying that the Lee County sheriff wouldn't get a fair trial because the records were sealed. So he doesn't like them open, he doesn't like them sealed- I wonder just what he thinks is right?

You rock, dstewart!

AutumnLeaves
10250
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AutumnLeaves 05/02/10 - 11:00 pm
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Hahha. Thanks corgimom, you

Hahha. Thanks corgimom, you beat me to it again. (Sealed/unsealed). Saved me from going back to the other thread and checking again, that one had my head spinning! LOL

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