Monday, December 10, 2012

Question: What can and cannot be disclosed by the City to Dunwoody citizens? Georgia Open Records Law

Blog Comment Question by Ken Thompson:  Is there a document or training materials available that cover what can and cannot be disclosed by the City to citizens and under what conditions previously withheld information could be made available?

Yes Ken, the City of Dunwoody recently hosted Senior Assistant Attorney General, Stefan Ritter who gave a training session on the new Open Meetings and Open Records law to a large room of elected officials and City Clerk's.   Below is the full presentation.

Though I have written on this subject quite a bit and have previously filed many open records requests, I consider the Georgia First Amendment Foundation the go to authority on the subject other than the State Attorney General's Staff.

Check out the informative documents below for the general open records rules as well as those that govern law enforcement and public schools.
  1. Red Book: open records and meetings
  2. Blue Book: open records and law enforcement
  3. Green Book: open records and public schools
  4. Sample Open Records Request
  5. Georgia Open Records Act
  6. Georgia Open Meetings Act
Regarding your question as to under what conditions previously withheld information could be made available?  Ken, I guess the answer depends on the subject be it real estate, executive session or a legal item.  For example you asked me in a blog comment if I could provide a link to the "Hirsch v Dunwoody" settlement agreement?  I guess officially that could be considered an open records request though it should have gone to our City Clerk, Ms. Sharon Lowery but I replied that under the advise of council it could not yet be released.  The reason may be that it is not yet settled and/or is a topic of a future executive session or some other reason of which our legal staff did not inform me.

I am guessing that once that exclusion is no longer valid the information would have to be released (if officially requested) therefore if you are interested, please contact Ms. Lowery.  If you were to ask Ms. Lowery for the document and it was still unavailable, she would tell you the exact exclusion the city is using to hold it back and an anticipated date that it may be available.  In this case, though it is an agenda item that I would normally publish, I am only following advice of council and can't officially quote the reason but guessing that it has to do with the still open lawsuit.  All that being said, my legal council can't force me to vote on something that I don't believe had a proper public airing.

I hope this information helps.

1 comment:

Ken Thompson said...

Mr. Heneghan,

First, thanks for your detailed answer. I will certainly read the provided material.

Second, thanks for what you do publish, proactively and unsolicited.

I share your appreciation of transparency and I wish the City were even aspiring to be as open and transparent as you. While the online apps are wonderful for those with City approved technology, raw data files would go a long way to dispel any notions the data are massaged and allow even ordinary citizens to correlate these data with data from other sources (e.g., traffic citations vs weather at key intersections).

For example, it seems no more difficult to publish the raw data collected by our radar signs than Council meeting minutes. Raw data on police activity might (or might not) warrant some redaction but should be readily available as well. Policies around proactive publishing w/o Open Records requests would seem straightforward with regards to most data collected by the City.

Beyond your own exemplar performance do you sense any enthusiasm within Council or the City bureaucracy to more towards more complete transparency?