Originally created 07/17/02

Closed-meeting grievance reaches law firm



The Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority's newly hired law firm - as one of its first official duties - will respond to an inquiry from the state attorney general's office regarding a closed meeting that was held last month under protest from The Augusta Chronicle.

The legality of the authority's June 25 meeting has been challenged by The Chronicle in a complaint sent June 26 to Attorney General Thurbert Baker's office. The Chronicle's open-meetings grievance, written by Executive Editor Dennis Sodomka, cites the board's failure to vote to go into closed session, its failure to sign an affidavit stating the nature of the closed session and its hearing testimony regarding personnel in the closed session.

"We are dismayed that a public board would conduct business with such disregard for state law," Mr. Sodomka wrote.

The law firm of Capers, Dunbar, Sanders & Bruckner was hired last week to represent the authority. Board attorney Sam Nicholson resigned June 1, and since then no attorney has been present at the board's meetings.

The attorney general's letter originally was addressed to City Attorney Jim Wall, who forwarded it to the Capers firm Monday, saying the coliseum authority is "a totally separate legal entity" from the city.

"Pursuant to the discretionary enforcement authority in (state law), this office attempts to mediate disputes regarding the Open Records and Open Meetings acts," Senior Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Allen wrote. "In that process, we receive complaints, and ask the attorney for the applicable local government to respond to them."

New board attorney Ziva Bruckner said she received the letter Tuesday afternoon and plans to address its concerns.

"It's unfortunate they didn't have an attorney" at the time the meeting was held, Ms. Bruckner said.

After reopening the meeting to the public, the authority voted to fire Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center General Manager Reggie Williams. Georgia First Amendment Foundation attorney David Hudson has said that if a court finds Mr. Williams' firing resulted from an illegally closed meeting, he or others could file a lawsuit to disqualify the board's action.

The attorney general's office has given authority officials two weeks to respond to the newspaper's allegations.

"If we do not hear from you in that time," the letter said, "we will assume that the allegations of Mr. Sodomka's letter are true and proceed accordingly."

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.