Savannah Morning News Editorial: Georgia AG Chris Carr Champions Transparency
As published in the Savannah Morning News
Feb. 19, 2019
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr takes a no-nonsense approach toward enforcing the law. He’s especially dedicated to upholding laws supporting government transparency.
Carr demonstrated that commitment last week when he cited a city of Atlanta employee for violating the Georgia Open Records Act. The move has broad implications for anyone fighting to shed light on what public officials are supposed to be doing in the public’s best interests.
Carr said that former city Director of Communications Jenna Garland told a staffer to “drag this out as long as possible” and “provide information in the most confusing format available” in responding to a open-records request. On another request, she told staff to “hold all” documents until the petitioner asked about an update.
To have Carr merely voice the allegation openly bears out what many, many journalists have suspected for years when they’ve requested public records: To discourage people from rightfully asking for copies of legally open records, civil servants seem to intentionally strive to make the process as inconvenient as possible for whoever requests.
We’ve seen the excuses. Sometimes the government will say they don’t have enough staff to fulfill the request quickly. Or the records are difficult to access. Or looking for the records takes employees away from more pressing duties. Or when you actually get the records, the government will charge some outrageously high “reproduction fee” for copies, hoping the petitioner will be discouraged by the price tag.
It’s a misdemeanor in Georgia to “knowingly and willingly attempt to frustrate access to records.” Pity the penalties aren’t stiffer.
Such delays fall only barely within the lines of credulity. It’s almost as if providing the public with records – records that effectively belong to the public – doesn’t seem to be a pressing priority for government.
It should be. Otherwise, government officials give citizens an impression that they want the public kept in the dark about government activity. Is that the kind of government you want?
Carr called his action in Atlanta a “first-of-its-kind prosecution” for Georgia. We sincerely hope it won’t be the last.
Excerpted from the Feb. 15 edition of the Augusta Chronicle