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.