NEW: City ordered to pay $12k in fines for Open Meeting violation

In a major victory for transparency in Georgia, the City of Cumming, was ordered by a judge to pay more than $12,000 (the maximum allowable penalty) in fines and legal fees for violating the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

The lawsuit was the first of its kind brought by Attorney General Sam Olens’ office after the state’s transparency laws were overhauled in 2012.

The AG began investigating the violation after Cumming Mayor Henry Ford Gravitt demanded that a citizen attending an April 17, 2012 city council meeting stop videotaping the proceedings, then ordered her to leave. The woman returned with another handheld camera and was again told to stop recording.

The state’s Open Meeting Act expressly provides that members of the public are allowed to make video and audio recordings of public meetings.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation (GFAF) is thrilled to see the ‘new’ open government law in action. Enforcement of the state’s Open Meetings and Records Acts are a critical component of the duties of the Office of the Attorney General, and we are delighted to see access rights preserved. We were particularly pleased by the use of the new civil penalties provisions of the new open government laws, and look forward to seeing more of these types of cases,” said Hyde Post, President of GFAF.

“Georgians deserve a government that operates openly and honestly,” Olens said in a press release. “The actions by the mayor in this circumstance were egregious, and it is essential that he be held responsible for his actions.”

We at the Transparency Project of Georgia applaud the court for siding with the public in this important case, and we now look to the City of Cumming to take steps to better inform its public officials on the rights of the people they were elected to represent. Remember, government belongs to the governed. 

-KC

 

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6 thoughts on “NEW: City ordered to pay $12k in fines for Open Meeting violation

  1. The AG should be filing cases like this in court on a monthly basis. There are enough complaints and violations to merit it. Or better yet, tell us citizens just exactly how it is we can take it to court and ask for the fines.

    • I am sorry, but I have no use for any city or county paying a fine! They don’t pay fines. We pay their fines. They have no money except what we give them. I would much rather see some of these people either lose their jobs or let them pay the fines. A politician that works for an agency, and makes his agency pay a fine for what he has done, hasen’t been hurt in any real way. The people do not follow these things closely and just continue to vote the same people back in to the positions. I pray everyday for The Lord to send us some people for these jobs that are honest and have the best interest of the people at heart!

      • Totally agree. The mayor himself, in this case, should pay the fine. Each person that violated the law should pay the fine personally.

  2. Why is everyone making such a big fuss over ONE, Yes, just ONE case the Attorney General has prosecuted since he has been in office. I put in a open records request to see if they had ever fined anyone who violated the open records law. Below is the answer from Stefan Ritter. Mr. Olens ran his campaign on giving us transparency in government. I guess he believes that one case is a major achievement for four years in office. Pretty sad knowing that everyone in the state is fighting their local government for transparency and getting absolutely no where!.

    June 5, 2014
    Since 2010 no fines have been collected by the Office of the Attorney General for violations of the Open Records or Open Meetings Act. As you know, the law was amended in 2012 to substantially increase the amount of fines that could be imposed and to allow such fines to be sought in a civil as well as a criminal action. Fines are only imposed by a court, however, and not by the Attorney General. Thus, there are no records of any fines imposed by the Attorney General. As additional background, please note that immediately after the law was amended in 2012 the Attorney General brought suit to enforce the law and seek fines for a local government’s alleged violations of the law. See Olens v. Gravitt, et. Al, civil action no. No. 12CV-1205 in the Superior Court of Forsyth County. The filings in this case are a matter of public record; I do not interpret your request as seeking them, they may be obtained directly from the court if you seek them. No fines have been imposed in that case yet, however; the superior court judge is still considering the case. We believe this case (and subsequent appeal therefrom) may establish the Attorney General’s ability to obtain fines (when fines are ordered by a court), and we anxiously await a ruling there.

    STEFAN RITTER
    Senior Assistant Attorney General

  3. Following Attorney General Sam Olens’ recent “win,” he made the following statements:

    “This ruling is a major victory for government transparency,” said Olens. “Georgians deserve a government that operates openly and honestly. The essence of our democracy is that elected officials are held accountable to the citizens and that citizens are allowed to exercise their rights granted by the First Amendment”

    However, Attorney General Sam Olens’s legal record states he is anything but transparent. Our State’s Attorney General, Sam Olens, is quite the contrary.

    Fact: Attorney General Sam Olens filed four “Responses in Opposition” (dates: 7 Sept. 2012, 10 May 2012, 2 Feb. 2012 and 11 Aug. 2011) in Fulton County Superior Court to four Motions in the Caldon vs BOR Whistleblower Case in his years of attempts to keep confirmed evidence of RICO (racketeering) violations by his Defendants, the Board of Regents of the USG, sealed from public view – even following Olens’ receiving a favorable summary judgment.

    Following the November 2013 Georgia Supreme Court ruling in favor of Georgia Whistleblowers and the recent Whistleblower Ethics Commission win of over a $3 million settlement – to be paid for with tax dollars and with Attorney General Sam Olens being the losing attorney – a Rule 60 Motion was filed in the Caldon v BOR Whistleblower lawsuit in Fulton County Superior Court on 24 July 2014 requesting the Court to throw the summary judgment out. A decision will be made any day – and before the 4 November election!

  4. Pingback: The Case of the Six Missing Screams: Nydia Tisdale’s video edited by sheriff’s office? | On the LAKE front

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