Olens Encourages City Officials to Get Familiar with Open Records and Meetings Changes

June 8, 2012

According to Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, GMA and other groups had a lot to do with the changes to the state's open meetings and records law passing during the 2012 legislative session.

“This is something that should happen a lot more…with the government going up to the folks who are most affected by it and ask them to draft a solution," he said at a recent Atlanta Press Club gathering. “It is a great scenario.”

He called the new law “more user-friendly” for the press and the public.

“It says you need to respond to open records request within three days, if you can’t, you need to say when the records will be available, something we didn’t have before,” he said. “The new law also says that if there are any legal reasons that you are not handing over requested records, you need to specifically cite those reasons, something we really didn’t have before.”

Olens noted that fines for non-compliance to the act’s provisions have increased and he can now take violators to court.

“There was some good language in the bill before, but I didn’t have enforcement ability,” he said. “If you have a vague bill without enforcement ability, it doesn’t accomplish a lot.”

While Olens claimed complaints about some local governments limiting access to meetings and records were the catalyst for his efforts to update state law, he said most local governments appear to be clear on the new guidelines, except in one area.

“I get the sense that local governments are very unclear about when something is appropriate for executive session,” he said.

He added that he worked to make the guidelines for executive session well-defined.

“In a much clearer matter we defined what is appropriate for executive session and what is not,” he said. “You can talk in executive session about settlement offers, acquisitions, leases or real estate, but the vote needs to be public.”

Olens encouraged local government officials to take the time to read the new bill.
“If I were a new councilman or new commissioner, the first thing I would do is read the open meetings/open records act and if you didn’t understand something, call your [city/county] lawyer.”

GMA is currently updating its publication, Government in the Sunshine: A Guide to Georgia's Open Meetings and Open Records Laws for Municipal Officials, to reflect the changes in the law. Also, there will be an Open Meeting/Open Records session during the 2012 Annual Convention and GMA will provide training opportunities later in the year to review the new law.

Contact Marcia Rubensohn at 678-686-6248 for more information.