Augusta commissioners Calvin Holland and Marion Williams' requests for copies of City Administrator Fred Russell's computer hard drive are too general and vague to be granted, says an attorney hired to give an impartial opinion on the requests.
Atlanta attorney Quinton S. Seay reviewed Mr. Holland's oral request and Mr. Williams' written one and said the commissioners failed to make valid requests under the Georgia Open Records Act.
"First, the commissioners' requests to receive copies of two hard drives do not constitute requests for records, as that term is defined by the Open Records Act," Mr. Seay wrote to Tameka Allen, the city's information technology director.
"The commissioners' have failed to request that the city produce certain records or particular types of records. Basically, their request is so general and vague that the city is unable to identify any records that can be made available for their inspection."
In addition, Mr. Holland and Mr. Williams have not requested certain information or a particular type of information to be produced from the two hard drives they have identified, Mr. Seay said.
"Finally, one of the hard drives that the commissioners have requested be copied contains information that is not subject to public disclosure under the Open Records Act," Mr. Seay continued.
Mr. Russell's hard drive is known to contain personal, confidential, disciplinary, medical and mental-health information of city employees.
"The disclosure of this information would be an invasion of the privacy of those employees and may expose the city to liability under various federal and state laws," Mr. Seay's letter concluded.
The commissioners had also requested copies of the computer hard drive of Lisa Williams, a secretary in the city's in-house law department.
Mr. Williams contends he already has a copy of Mr. Russell's computer hard drive, but he will not say where he got it.
He only said that if it does not match the information he expects eventually to receive from the administrator's computer, there would be trouble.
"I've got what I need, and I can wait them out," he said.
Mr. Williams said if his open records request is so vague that Mr. Seay can't understand it, he will re-word it so that he will.
He said he learned from former city attorney Jim Wall and his successor Stephen Shepard that a word change here or there can change the whole meaning of a document.
Mr. Williams said Mr. Seay's letter is so vague he can't understand it.
"We're paying him $150 an hour, so he ought to talk with plain sense," he said. "He's talking in circles. I do that, but I don't get $150 an hour."
Mr. Williams said the way politics works in Augusta is that if attorneys offend either side on an issue, they will be out the door and lose lucrative business, so they play both sides.
Meanwhile, Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said his department is continuing its inquiry into how Mr. Williams could have gotten a copy of Mr. Russell's hard drive, but that no criminal investigation has been launched.
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.