Forum details public access, records rights

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Next time, Becky Shealy said, she'll know her rights.

Among about 150 people at an open records/open meetings workshop put on Monday by The Augusta Chronicle and other media was the woman who brought the problem to light.

Last month, the Goshen resident was researching a $50 million stimulus application involving her neighborhood and was told by a manager in the city's Housing and Community Development Department that she couldn't have a copy. After Commissioner Don Grantham stepped in, she got a copy that didn't include the signature pages she wanted.

That constituted two violations of open records law, according to Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson. It took two weeks and a plea before the Augusta Commission for Mrs. Shealy to get the full document.

"If I knew then what I know now," Mrs. Shealy said, "I would have cited to the (city) employee the Sunshine Law and said, 'Here's what I'm entitled to, and this is why.' "

Richmond County Board of Education attorney Pete Fletcher talked Monday about the Family Education Right to Privacy Act, which focuses on student records and public disclosure, and Mr. Hudson discussed Georgia's open meetings and open records laws.

The Chronicle's media partners in presenting the forum were The Metro Courier, Metro Spirit and Columbia County News-Times newspapers; radio station WGAC, WKZK talk show host Helen Blocker-Adams and television stations WRDW, WAGT and WJBF.

The attorneys provided perspectives on what can and can't be released, on meetings that must be opened and circumstances under which they can be closed.

Mr. Hudson said he often gets complaints that an elected official won't talk to someone.

"You're entitled to see documents and go to meetings, but they don't have to talk to you," Mr. Hudson said.

Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason said the workshop was "a reinforcement." He said everything presented Monday had been taught to him in more detail through Georgia Municipal Association training.

"I don't know that I learned anything," he said, "but it was good information."

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

OPEN RECORDS/OPEN MEETINGS PROBLEMS?

If you believe a government entity isn't complying with the law, the state attorney general's office has a mediator who will hear both sides of the story and try to settle the problem.


For help, call Senior Assistant Attorney General Stephan Ritter at (404) 656-7298.


The Atlanta-based Georgia First Amendment Foundation also offers guidance and can be reached at (404) 525-3646. For a copy of Georgia's Sunshine Laws, visit the Georgia First Amendment Foundation's Web site at www.gfaf.org.

Comments (8)

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Craig Spinks
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Craig Spinks 09/22/09 - 04:19 am
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Did Mr. Fletcher provide any

Did Mr. Fletcher provide any consequential specifics about, and any consequential implications of, the Family Education Right to Privacy Act?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 09/22/09 - 04:39 am
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What Commissioner besides

What Commissioner besides Alvin Mason was there? Was Chiquita Johnson there? County employees? I doubt it. This was preaching to the choir.

scott-hudson
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scott-hudson 09/22/09 - 05:50 am
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RM, Grantham, Jackson and the

RM, Grantham, Jackson and the Mayor were there, Brigham might have been there. Those were the only ones I saw.

leoswife
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leoswife 09/22/09 - 08:34 am
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Riverman1 this was an

Riverman1 this was an informational meeting for the public. It was a way to educate the public on the Sunshine Laws, where they could find them and what they mean to everyone. In this day and age you have to arm yourself with knowledge. You are so negative sometimes. This was a positive meeting for the public.

HillGuy
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HillGuy 09/22/09 - 01:34 pm
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becky1
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becky1 09/22/09 - 02:14 pm
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As a citizen AND a board

As a citizen AND a board member for two NFPs, I learned a tremendous amount from this workshop. Thank you to all the media outlets that sponsored this event. The time and effort that went into the presentations was evident. Hudson and Fletcher both presented in everyday English that we all could understand.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 09/22/09 - 04:31 pm
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I'm sure it was an excellent

I'm sure it was an excellent program and everyone involved deserves thanks. However, the stated purpose was "to help the public, county and state employees understand Georgia's Sunshine Laws." When few government employees show up, you haven't accomplished much on that end.

disssman
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disssman 09/22/09 - 09:06 pm
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This was a first step in

This was a first step in getting this city doing something right. What is the subject of the next class and when is it? Smoe suggestions are. How the city develops and manages the budget. What are the responsibilities of the various appointed boards. How we evaluate contracts for the city. I could go on and on but you get my gist. Public forums like this can only make us stronger.

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