Valdosta Daily Times EDITORIAL: Attorney General Chris Carr is getting serious

April 9, 2018

As published by The Valdosta Daily Times Editorial Board writes:

Something unprecedented in state government has happened. Elected and appointed officials, along with records custodians in every branch of local government, better be paying close attention.

City Hall is under criminal investigation for possible violations of the Georgia Open Records Act, and if it can happen in Atlanta, it can happen anywhere else in Georgia.

The message is clear: Public records belong to the public.

Attorney General Chris Carr is getting serious. 

Carr called on the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to launch a criminal probe after WSB-TV published text messages from a city official that were a clear attempt to stall a records request made by the media.  

The GBI investigators are getting serious and have expanded that probe to look at the falsification of records supplied to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Georgia’s open government laws must be enforced.

By this action, the attorney general is sending a strong message that he intends to do just that. 

Carr is exactly right when he said if we are going to have open government laws, then those laws “need to mean something.” 

Any appointed or elected official, along with all records custodians, that even considered denying, stalling or exasperating an open records request, better think twice.

This landmark case means that now not only could you be fined for violating the Open Records Act, you could be setting yourself up for a criminal investigation. You could even go to jail.

All the records held in government hands, or filing cabinets, belong to the public.

The AG is sending a strong message that withholding public records is criminal. 

Government does not get to decide what it wants to release and what it does not want to release.

It does not matter if a record might be embarrassing, inflammatory, point to illegality or even misunderstood if it is released to the public.

The public should understand that access laws are not just for the media. The laws exist for your benefit. It is your government.

Every action of government is your business.

Every document held in government halls is your piece of paper.

Every penny spent by government is your money.

From the courthouse to the statehouse to the White House, government belongs to the governed and not the governing.

You have the right to know what the governing are up to, always.

The law says you cannot knowingly or willfully frustrate, or attempt to frustrate, access to public records.

Remember, in the city of Atlanta case that is now under criminal investigation, it all started because a communications director told a staff person to be “as unhelpful as possible,” to “drag this out as long as possible,” and to “provide the information in the most confusing format possible.”

The attorney general activating the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to launch a criminal probe into violations of the state’s Sunshine Law is a game changer. 

From top to bottom, everyone in public service needs to pay attention before you end up paying for a crime.