Open Meetings / Records Complaint
To: Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens
From: James Bell
July 8, 2016
I allege that a violation of Georgia Open Meetings / Records Act has accrued in Douglas County GA on or around June 14, 2016.
Douglas County is preparing for a SPLOST tax vote in November. In this process the county held numerous meeting seeking citizens input. During these meeting county officials were soliciting for participants in a Citizens Project Selection Committee (CPSC). The committee was later selected and formed and a meeting took place.
In preparation for a vote on the SPLOST resolution county officials made it know that the CPSC would be presenting a report on the percentage split of the revenue to the Board of Commissioner.
It was also revealed that a meeting took place on June 14, 2016 – 6:00 pm at the Douglas County Courthouse with 12 members of the CPSC and County Manager Mark Teal. It is not clear who else attended due to a lack of record.
I submitted an open records request seeking information on the identity of committee members and minutes of that meeting.
On June 21, 2016 – “Hi – I am seeking the names of the persons serving on the SPLOST recommendation committee. I would also like to have any minutes of their meetings and time,dates and location of any future meetings. If any of this information is provided online a link will suffice.
Thank you, James Bell ”
On June 23, 2016 the county responded with: “I have attached available documents responsive to your request. The SPLOST Committee met Tuesday, June 14, 2016 at 6:00 pm. No minutes were taken at the meeting. There are currently no new meetings scheduled. Thanks! Aubrey Britt Records Administrator Douglas County” ( attached document was the names of the 12 committee members )
On June 28, 2916 I followed up with: “Was there a public notice of the June 14 meeting published? If so I request a copy of the notice. James Bell”
The response from the county on the same date: “The Board of Commissioner’s office indicated that there are no documents responsive to your request, as the citizen project selection committee is not a formal committee or subcommittee of the Board of Commissioner’s office. Thanks. Aubrey Britt Records Administrator Douglas County”
On July 5, 2016 the Board of Commissioners held a legislative session that included a vote to approve the SPLOST resolution and the public was allowed to comment. I raised the issue of the committee/staff holding secrete meetings without public notice and without recording minutes.
County attorney Ken Bernard addressed the issue by stating that he talked with County Manager Mark Teal saying that (paraphrasing) if the committee was created by citizens they have no say in when, where and how they meet, but if it is a county committee they are subject to open meetings laws.
At 4:00 pm that afternoon the county forwarded me an email thread that make it clear that the committee was being formed for the county and by the county and an invitation to some citizens to serve on the committee as well as the time and date of the meeting.
Based on the information I have obtained it appears they in fact held a meeting without public notice and without recording the minutes of the meetings in violation of state laws.
While I feel the county will follow the laws in the future with this committee, I felt it was important to officially file a complaint to establish the alleged violation.
I and the citizens of Douglas County expect our county government to follow the law and publish any future meeting notices and allow the public and media to observe these meetings according to the laws.
Thank you, James Bell