Closed mouths on open records

City doesn't return community support on vital public issue

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If only the mayor was as adept at cutting red tape as he is at cutting ribbons.

It gives us no pleasure to report that our largely ceremonial chief executive seems to have little interest in that side of public service.

When confronted with the fact that the city's 911 call center is withholding public recordings of 911 calls -- unlawfully in our view, and likely in the view of the state's attorney general's office -- Mayor Deke Copenhaver tucked tail and ran, hiding behind possible legal action by The Chronicle .

"The fact that a lawsuit is in the works makes this pending/potential litigation legally limiting my ability to comment," he wrote to us, noting that Chronicle attorney David Hudson and he "have had many conversations with issues that are created when elected officials comment on pending and potential litigation as it creates a great deal of legal liability."

How disappointing and even disingenuous. We weren't looking for quotes; we wanted help!

Yet, first, the city fails to comply with the law, forcing the community to take legal action. Then the mayor claims the legal action that the city itself caused now ties his hands? What a bunch of malarkey, and a severe letdown coming from a mayor who has enjoyed support from a vast swath of this city.

Apparently, the support doesn't run both ways.

The mayor need not be careful about what he says: We're pretty sure the city is in legal hot water already.

An assistant attorney general ominously advised the city of Augusta, "While I am not yet assuming the City has violated the (Open Records) Act, I would ask that you provide a response to the allegations to clarify and to provide further legal support for the City's position."

The reason for that veiled warning is clear: The city's position is weak, at best -- openly flouting established law at worst.

Hudson, who also serves as counsel to the Georgia Press Association, says 911 calls are exempted from investigative materials that can be withheld from release. Precedent also establishes such calls as public record. And as Hollie Manheimer, executive director for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, notes, "Even when the Open Records Act was adjusted a few years ago, these public records (remained) open to the public. The legislature recognizes that access to these records and information is useful and beneficial to the community and enables the public to better monitor its government."

Any court reviewing this case will look at such legislative intent.

The city is largely trying to protect itself from public scrutiny. Release of 911 recordings -- especially from as violent a summer as Augusta just witnessed, with eight killings in seven incidents in a particularly bloody spell in July -- will help the community determine, among other things, how well officials are performing under pressure.

In a free country, we have a right to know that.

"These are records key to the public's ability to review the actions of government," says Chronicle Executive Editor Alan English.

There are rumors that the city's in-house legal department wants even more staff. Given this albatross, do we really want to invest more tax money there?

Besides the apparent violations of the Open Records Act, we would think a city government that has received so much support from its community -- Copenhaver and commissioners Al Mason and Corey Johnson were just re-elected with more than 60 percent of the vote -- would return the support.

Apparently, it doesn't run both ways.

Comments (18) Add comment
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Austin Rhodes
2852
Points
Austin Rhodes 11/28/10 - 12:11 am
0
0
Just now figuring that out

Just now figuring that out fellas?

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/28/10 - 12:53 am
0
0
The law department

The law department continually gives the city the same advice:

Do what you want. If we get sued, we'll fight them in court.

Look at this case.
Look at the open records case with the procurement department.
Look at the numerous procurement debacles.
Look at the abstention issue.

But the law department is best served by giving bad advice. The more bad advice it gives, the more lawsuits it produces.
And, the more lawsuits it produces, the greater the job security for its staff.

CorporalGripweed
0
Points
CorporalGripweed 11/28/10 - 02:37 am
0
0
These guys all talked a great

These guys all talked a great game in October, but after the elections they reverted back to typical elitist politicians behavior. No surprises here but it is disheartening. You'd think that the legal department and the Mayor in particular would "man up" and make sure the press had any and ALL info they need to inform the public of what is, or is not being done in the name of public safety. Especially given the crime rate compared to last year's. Sadly it seems that CYA is more important to "city leaders" than actually accomplishing the task at hand.

RoadKing
105
Points
RoadKing 11/28/10 - 02:38 am
0
0
AC .... Who did you endorse

AC .... Who did you endorse for Mayor ????

justus4
99
Points
justus4 11/28/10 - 02:44 am
0
0
The "city" will not be
Unpublished

The "city" will not be ordered to comply with Open Records Act because the statement "The city's position is weak-at best" is only an opinion. Everyone has those. In fact, there must be some compelling reason - not just the "free country" stuff, or First Amendment charge to get them to release citizen's information. The city must protect ALL its citizens and not cater to segments with deep pockets and whose interest in open records may provide an opportunity to exploit particular citizens. And the mayor is correct on this one because it would be irresponsible to comment during the legal process. Lastly, the inference from the second to last paragraph, it seems that some folks believe their political support deserve favorable treatment in return. Ha! Isn't that illegal?

Riverman1
82265
Points
Riverman1 11/28/10 - 06:38 am
0
0
Here is what I think is up

Here is what I think is up with Deke. He employs these public relations folks to advise him in many ways. As great as Augusta is in some ways, it has major problems with crime (911 interest I suppose) as evidenced by all the murders, but Deke is told by the PR people that he should distance himself from any negative factors. If he is not seen or heard talking about crime, he is not associated with that major problem.

He wants to be seen and associated with positives only. When something bad happens where he could show leadership he hides from it on the PR people's advice. I'm sure they have this method studied well and know what they are doing because it appears to be working as evidenced by Deke's big election victory.

There is no better example of the strategy than the Cherry Tree riots that had Augusta on the verge of catastrophe when Deke literally left town, turned off his cell phone and barricaded himself in his beach house in SC for almost a week at the height of the trouble.. It may not be so much he lacks courage, but that he is following the strategy.

However, you have to wonder if a point is not reached where the people rebel at the lack of willingness to tackle the real problems Augusta has? It looks like the Chronicle has had enough of the smiles that don't answer questions.

dichotomy
32080
Points
dichotomy 11/28/10 - 09:43 am
0
0
I am so sick of our A/RC

I am so sick of our A/RC government, both the politicians and the bureaucrats in the departments. Everytime someone asks for public records they all look like cats covering up crap.

911 tapes have been pretty much recognized nationally as being public records for decades. This should not even be a question. The other commenter is correct. Everytime our "city attorney" gives advice that gets the city dragged into court the attorney gets more job security, more underlings, and a bigger budget. Fire the city attorney and get one that represents the people's interest, not the incomptent and corrupt politicians and bureacrats.

The only reason to not make government records available are incompetence and/or corruption. There are no "national security" issues in A/RC and anything else should pretty much be made public. If any employee, any politician, any agency, or any department does anything, it should be a matter of public record. We need to clean our house, not only of the politicians, but also of the entrenched county department heads and managers.

The rule of thumb is, if they won't make it public they are hiding something.

utefann
0
Points
utefann 11/28/10 - 10:20 am
0
0
I wonder, if people are so

I wonder, if people are so few up with they political process we have, why did these folks win so heavily. One day we will wake up and smell the roses. Oh well next year we wilore elections and I am sure we will continue to vote for the incumbent regardless of the sloppy job they have been doing.

Austin Rhodes
2852
Points
Austin Rhodes 11/28/10 - 10:57 am
0
0
66%, people...66%. That

66%, people...66%.

That isn't a win, that is a "Take your comments and shove them where the sun don't shine" MANDATE !

I wonder if Deke laughs out loud at us (his critics), or he just chuckles under his breath?

Lori Davis
905
Points
Lori Davis 11/28/10 - 11:51 am
0
0
I believe a lot of people

I believe a lot of people laugh under their breath and the audacity of some citizens who would actually like to see this city operated properly and out in the open. If our gov't is still listening to the same incompetent law dept. that I dealt with last year, we're in for a lot of heartache.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/28/10 - 12:13 pm
0
0
Is it a mere coincidence that

Is it a mere coincidence that the city is furloughing employees, but the law department is asking for more money?

Deke is already in training for the next triathlon. He is running, running, running away from the tough questions.

Don't forget how the city attorney got his job. The last attorney was paid off and forced out. The current city attorney was her underling. Are we surprised when he acts the same way as his former boss? That's a great hiring practice - fire someone and then look no farther than their underling for a replacement.

Insider Information
4009
Points
Insider Information 11/28/10 - 12:15 pm
0
0
66% is a mandate. It's a

66% is a mandate.

It's a mandate to improve the drinking water. That's the only explanation for voting for Deke.

dichotomy
32080
Points
dichotomy 11/28/10 - 01:07 pm
0
0
This is not about Deke. Deke,

This is not about Deke. Deke, like all other mayors of Augusta, is powerless and the job suits him well. As long as we operate under the current city charter where the mayor is useless, Deke is the kind of person who will run for the position and get elected. Everyone knows he is harmless. He won't do anything to upset the current "balance of power", tit for tat, trade this to get that form of corruption.....ehhh government that we suffer through now. Play the game, cover up the scandals, and pay off embarrassing and/or stealing employees is our entire government's mode of operation. Nope, Deke will never make any waves. What's the point if he can't do anythingh about it. Our charter gives us the type of mayor and commission we have. Our mayor and commission give us the type of department heads and employees we have. Augusta was doomed, in writing, from day one when the city charter was approved. And the RC taxpayers in the unincorporated areas were robbed and their futures were doomed by the same document.

dani
12
Points
dani 11/28/10 - 01:38 pm
0
0
We continue to believe that

We continue to believe that given time politicians will change..that they will eventually take our side...
Hope and Change, Hope and Change, um,um.ummm

Patty-P
3516
Points
Patty-P 11/28/10 - 01:48 pm
0
0
Augusta is the worst where

Augusta is the worst where government and cover-ups is concerned. We can't wonder why things are the way they are here.

AutumnLeaves
7046
Points
AutumnLeaves 11/28/10 - 02:56 pm
0
0
Thanks for the laugh at 11:11

Thanks for the laugh at 11:11 Austin. Also, dichotomy, I know exactly the look you are talking about, thanks for your perfect description of it: "Everytime someone asks for public records they all look like cats covering up crap."

MysteryWriter
0
Points
MysteryWriter 11/28/10 - 04:14 pm
0
0
This is hysterical. Everyone

This is hysterical. Everyone wants to jump on the Mayor for not responding but where are the 'quotes' from Phil Wasson who supposedly runs the 911 center. Or maybe Sheriff Strength who is supposedly in charge of the law enforcement in this community. Do they not get held to the same standards of open and transparent government? What a crock!

AutumnLeaves
7046
Points
AutumnLeaves 11/28/10 - 06:50 pm
0
0
Deleted my last question

Deleted my last question because it seemed to be a thread-killer, either that or everyone's traveling home or eating leftovers. Happy Thanksgiving everyone and please be careful there were three armed robberies (that we know of) last night, one on Washington Road, two on Gordon Hwy.

rmwhitley
5542
Points
rmwhitley 11/28/10 - 10:29 pm
0
0
It takes strong character to
Unpublished

It takes strong character to lead and govern. Governance is not a fence-sitting spectator sport.

CarlA
114
Points
CarlA 12/02/10 - 01:14 pm
0
0
The mayor and the city should

The mayor and the city should know better than anyone that it is not a good idea to pick a fight with someone that buys ink by the barrel and paper by the truck load.

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