Carr: Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions When It Comes to

Calhoun Times - - FRONT PAGE -

AT­LANTA, GA – The Ge­or­gia con­sti­tu­tion states that pub­lic of­fi­cials are “ser­vants of the peo­ple,” and the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral has a long and proud tra­di­tion of en­cour­ag­ing open­ness in gov­ern­men­tal meet­ings and records.

“As pub­lic of­fi­cials, we are sim­ply trus­tees of the peo­ple’s doc­u­ments,” said At­tor­ney Gen­eral Chris Carr. “Our of­fice takes very se­ri­ously our role in open govern­ment, and we will con­tinue to work with mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, state agen­cies, the me­dia and all in­ter­ested par­ties to pro­mote and pro­tect trans­par­ent govern­ment in Ge­or­gia.”

In 2017, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Chris Carr in­sti­tuted an Open Govern­ment Tour in Ge­or­gia as part of a larger ef­fort to ed­u­cate mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, elected of­fi­cials, state record keep­ers and oth­ers about their du­ties and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties un­der Ge­or­gia’s Open Meet­ings Act (OMA) and Open Records Act ( ORA). In ad­di­tion, the Of­fice of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral re­cently compiled the fol­low­ing list of Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions as it re­lates to Ge­or­gia’s Sun­shine Laws. Though the list does not cover all in­tri­ca­cies of the OMA and the ORA, our web­site in­cludes a wealth of in­for­ma­tion for those look­ing to gain a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of their rights and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, in­clud­ing the full Cit­i­zen’s Guide for Open Govern­ment.

An agency may ap­point an Open Records of­fi­cer, and if they have done so, your re­quest should be sent to that per­son. If an Open Records of­fi­cer has been ap­pointed, that in­for­ma­tion will be on the agency’s web­site. Their web­site may also have a form that can be filled in and sub­mit­ted on­line. If that in­for­ma­tion is not avail­able on­line, a phone call to the city clerk or county clerk is usu­ally the fastest way to find out the right per­son to send your re­quest to.

The Open Records Act al­lows ( and some­times re­quires) cer­tain in­for­ma­tion to be redacted from records be­fore they are made avail­able to the pub­lic. For ex­am­ple, so­cial se­cu­rity num­bers and fi­nan­cial ac­count num­bers usu­ally need to be redacted. When a record con­tains that kind of in­for­ma­tion, the redac­tions will need to be done even if you just want to view the records with­out mak­ing copies. The agency should use the most ef­fi­cient method pos­si­ble to redact the records, and some­times the most ef­fi­cient way to do the redac­tions is to print out the records.

When a large num­ber of records are re­quested, some may be im­me­di­ately avail­able while other take longer to lo­cate and pro­duce. When that hap­pens, an agency should al­low the re­quester to in­spect the records as they be­come avail­able, rather than wait­ing to pro­duce them once all records are avail­able, un­less the re­quest­ing party wishes to wait un­til all records are avail­able.

An agency may only charge a “flat fee” for records if there is a spe­cific statute that al­lows it. For ex­am­ple, O. C. G. A. § 40- 9- 30 al­lows a law en­force­ment agency to charge $5 for a copy of a Uni­form Motor Ve­hi­cle Ac­ci­dent Re­port. How­ever, an agency may not charge a flat fee for records un­less specif­i­cally au­tho­rized by state law; oth­er­wise, the amount charged should be based on the num­ber of copies made and the hourly rate of the low­est­paid full- time em­ployee who has the nec­es­sary skills to pro­duce the records.

Many ci­ties and coun­ties have an­nual “re­treats,” where a meet­ing is held at an out- of- town lo­ca­tion. These types of meet­ings are al­lowed by the Open Meet­ings Act. An­nual re­treats are fre­quently held for the pur­pose of strate­gic plan­ning, dis­cus­sion of long- term goals, train­ing, team- build­ing or sim­i­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. How­ever, these re­treats must still fol­low the pro­ce­dural re­quire­ments of the OMA, such as proper no­tice and post­ing of an agenda. Min­utes should also be pro­duced af­ter the meet­ing.

Agen­cies must de­ter­mine on a case- by- case ba­sis which peo­ple may re­main in a closed ses­sion, per­mit­ting only those per­sons whose pres­ence is con­sis­tent with an ap­pli­ca­ble ex­cep­tion to re­main in the closed meet­ing. For ex­am­ple, O. C. G. A. § 50- 14- 3( b)( 1) ( B) al­lows meet­ings to be closed for a dis­cus­sion of “ne­go­ti­a­tions to pur­chase, dis­pose of, or lease prop­erty.” It may be ap­pro­pri­ate for board or coun­cil mem­bers, if they chose, to in­clude in their closed ses­sion the cur­rent own­ers of the real es­tate in ques­tion and their at­tor­neys or agents.

The Open Meet­ings Act does not re­quire ( or pro­hibit) an op­por­tu­nity for pub­lic com­ments at meet­ings. An agency may set time lim­its for pub­lic com­ments, and may de­cide whether to al­low com­ments at the be­gin­ning or the end of the meet­ing.

Su­pe­rior, State, Pro­bate, and Mag­is­trate Courts are not sub­ject to the Open Records Act. Al­though court records are pub­lic records, a court’s pro­ce­dures for view­ing and copy­ing files may be dif­fer­ent than the pro­ce­dures re­quired by the ORA. In ad­di­tion, the At­tor­ney Gen­eral has not been given the au­thor­ity to me­di­ate com­plaints about the ac­ces­si­bil­ity of court records.

Home­owner’s As­so­ci­a­tions are not sub­ject to the ORA or OMA. As­so­ci­a­tions are pri­vately funded by Home­own­ers who pay as­so­ci­a­tion dues, and are not gov­ern­men­tal or quasi- gov­ern­men­tal agen­cies that fall within the cov­er­age of the OMA or the ORA.

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