Georgia government corruption
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MARIETTA, Georgia: Two former Washington County commissioners are being investigated for deleting or transferring a large number of files, some related to budget preparation, from their office computers before leaving office last year. On February 6, search warrants for the homes of the two commissioners were issued and nearly 7,000 documents were recovered. The Washington County sheriff’s office recommended that charges, including theft in office, be filed against the commissioners, but the County Prosecutor has not yet taken any action against them.
"E-mail addresses of residents who have signed up for Cobb Police bulletins could soon be protected from prying eyes.
Senate Bill 26, which passed both houses of the Georgia Legislature without opposition, would exempt e-mail distribution lists kept by police and fire departments from Open Records requests. The bill requires Gov. Sonny Perdue's signature to become law."
"The good news is that someone in the state legislature has recognized the state Open Records Act has become unwieldy over the years as lawmakers have adopted numerous exemptions to the law, exemptions that limit the amount of information the public can get from the array of state and local governmental and quasi-governmental institutions.
The bad news - or, to be more fair, the potentially bad news - is that the "someone" is House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram."
"Despite the position of the Clarke County Board of Education and its attorney to the contrary, the contract offered to new Clarke County Schools Superintendent Philip Lanoue was a public document even before the new superintendent signed it. The fact the board and its attorney apparently didn't know that is a clear sign they may need a detailed review of the state's Open Records Act, which sets the parameters for public access to government documents.
In the hours before the board voted unanimously Thursday to extend Lanoue a $165,000 per year contract (bumped up to $170,000 when he completes work on his doctorate), board member Denise Mewborn, who headed the district's months-long superintendent search, told this newspaper the contract wouldn't be released until Lanoue signed it."
"The Clarke County Board of Education will not release the salary or other details about the employment of a new superintendent until several days after board members voted unanimously to hire him.
The board approved a contract Thursday with Cobb County area superintendent Philip Lanoue, but refused to release the document until Tuesday.
While Georgia's open records laws require school boards and other government bodies to allow the public access to documents, the school board's attorney refused to let people know the details, saying the contract ought to be protected."
"The head of the state Department of Human Resources, whose hiring practices have drawn past scrutiny, is facing new allegations of preferential treatment of an employee.
Georgia’s inspector general is investigating the employment of Cynthia Tate after an anonymous complaint said Tate was a “personal friend” of B.J. Walker, commissioner of the department, when Tate was hired.
The complaint also alleged that Walker allowed Tate to charge the state for hours not worked to compensate for her travel costs to and from Chicago, where she lives while commuting regularly to Georgia for her work. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution received a copy of that complaint, made anonymously by a DHR employee."
"Last week, the Savannah-Chatham County Police agreed to make available to the public a list of all police reports.
The decision comes at the end of a battle with the Savannah Morning News over access to police reports. In December, the police department notified the newspaper that reports would no longer be available for public review. Instead, reporters would have to ask for a specific report.
This has long been the situation at our own Atlanta Police Department. When the APD ignored my open records request last summer, I dug through the stack of reports available for review at Central Records, and, as expected, never found the incident I was after. It has been common knowledge among reporters for years that the stack of “open” reports at the APD’s Central Records is scrubbed of most serious crime. If a reporter searches the stack for a specific report of a violent crime, as I did, there’s a better than average chance that it won’t be in the stack."
"The city of Atlanta’s attempt to limit Citizen Review Board access to police files came under heavy fire Wednesday.
About a dozen citizens joined five city council members in blasting Mayor Shirley Franklin’s plan to reduce the group’s access to criminal investigation files.
“I cannot support something that will dilute (the board’s) power,” Atlanta City Council member H. Lamar Willis said. “There’s nothing to discuss.”"
"Local governments in Georgia can't arbitrarily decide which information they wish to make public.
They must follow state law.
And it's not complicated. The mandates of the Open Records Act are clear and straightforward.
Legally, government agencies can't pick and choose which portions of the law they want to follow anymore than a falling rock can fight gravity.
Unfortunately, attorneys for the City of Savannah have chosen so far to take a hard-headed stand and are refusing to follow state law, as it applies to public records at the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department."
"Some Hall County officials claim the cost of open government was too high in 2008.
In response to what they call a high volume of open records requests, the Hall County Board of Commissioners is urging state lawmakers to consider changing the law to increase the amount the county can charge per copy."
"Widespread errors and missing paperwork have continued to plague Atlanta Public Schools’ financial books despite repeat warnings from auditors.
State auditors noted serious defects in each of the five years since a judge ordered them to begin examining the system. For two years, financial statements were in such disarray that examiners refused to vouch for their accuracy.
The Savannah Morning News is asking the Georgia attorney general's office to intervene in a dispute with Savannah-Chatham County police over public access to crime reports.
The newspaper says the police department is violating the state Open Records Act because it has stopped providing copies of daily, accumulated incident reports for the public and reporters to inspect."
"Jekyll Island's governing authority ducked public review of its most important redevelopment contract prior to the Dec. 1 vote which approved it, internal e-mails show. Even a state senator who had sought to comment on the contract said he was evaded.
"It shows their contempt and disrespect for the people I represent," said state Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick. "This is the people's business."
However, Jekyll officials say if they have to provide public review of contracts before board vote, it would make it impossible for them to broker complex deals with developers."
"Through an unusual financial arrangement, three Atlanta City Council members have showered thousands of dollars’ worth of prizes, parties and food on their constituents with donations from dozens of local businesses, city records show.
The council members solicited the donations from the companies, some of which have had business before the council. And the contributions have come in the form of checks written to, and held by, the city in special “trust fund” accounts. Expense records and interviews with the council members suggest that they spend the money as they see fit with little oversight from the city."
In that request, the Banner-Herald likely will ask for copies of any written communications between and among Superintendent James Simms, Deputy Superintendent Ernest Hardaway and Joseph Williams III, outgoing principal of the district's SOAR Academy, an alternative school for at-risk students in grades six through 12.
It's unclear whether that request will shed any light on the circumstances that led to Williams' decision, reported in Friday's newspaper, to resign. He will be replaced next month by the school's associate principal."
Michael Berry, who was fired back in September, alleges that documents pertaining to his termination weren’t being provided to him in the time mandated by open records laws. Berry and his attorneys filed suit Monday in Effingham County Superior Court, claiming a meeting held Sept. 8 concerning Berry was inappropriately closed to Berry and other citizens. The lawsuit also states that information that led to Berry’s suspension and ultimate dismissal was received at the meeting, which lasted until 3:30 a.m. Sept. 9."
"A self-proclaimed government ethics watchdog Wednesday called on Georgia leaders to fire Transportation Commissioner Gena Evans for inappropriate relationships with co-workers and former subordinates when she worked in other state agencies.
George Anderson, executive director of the Ethics in Government Group, said he had filed or planned to file a barrage of complaints against Evans with the ethics officer of the state Department of Transportation, the Office of the State Inspector General and the state Department of Law."
"DeKalb County Recorders Court — one of the busiest traffic courts in the state — has lost track of hundreds of thousands of citations, costing the county and the state possibly tens of millions of dollars in uncollected fines, according to internal court e-mails.
The breakdown also let people ignore citations and not face punishment — and no one has been looking for them.
The e-mails, obtained through the Georgia Open Records Act, show that a two-year communications failure in the court’s computer systems has caused citations to sit unresolved in case databases. It’s the electronic equivalent of being stuffed in a closet and forgotten."
"How much internal school system information may a board of education member see before he has to ask permission from the full board?
Does a school board member have to seek advance permission from the superintendent before he visits a school in the system?
Those questions have led to a split vote on a school system policy change and acrimonious words between opposing school board members since an Oct. 20 meeting."
"Albany Mayor Willie Adams cited a lack of communication as a major reason for the Albany Police Department’s ongoing battle with local media outlets over the information that is submitted by the department in its incident reports during an Albany City Commission work session Tuesday morning.
APD Chief James Younger told commissioners his officers had been directed to complete reports with the “who, what, when and where” needed by media to report on incidents that occur in the city, but that information which might “jeopordize a case or put citizens in harm’s way” would not be included in reports given to the media."
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