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A POSSIBLY interesting editorial from the Valdosta Daily Times:
What happened in Habersham County could happen in Lowndes County.

It could happen anywhere in Georgia.

Violating the Georgia Open Meetings Act is serious, and officials in Habersham County have found out it can also be expensive.

According to an article published in the Gainesville Times and information from the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, county officials have been ordered to pay more than $40,000 in fines and legal fees, largely because of the misuse of executive sessions, a failure to issue proper meeting notices and trying to circumvent open records laws by using private email.

According to reports in the Gainesville Times, the county commission and the airport authority denied any wrongdoing.

Perhaps they did not understand the law.

Perhaps they got bad advice from their attorney.

Perhaps they knew the law and disregarded it.

Regardless, the courts have said they violated the law and now face $41,000 in fines and fees.

When newspapers, including this one, warn elected officials about possible open meetings or records violations they all say the same things.

“We know what we are doing. We know the law. We are not doing anything wrong. Our attorney said we are in compliance.”

Doubtlessly those are the very things officials in Habersham said.

Those are the same things the mayor and city officials said in Cumming, Ga. just before the mayor was fined $12,000 for violating the Open Meetings Act last year.

Those are the very things the newspaper was told just before the Office of the Attorney General said the Valdosta Board of Education was in violation of the Open Meetings Act and ordered it to comply or face legal action last year.

Let us be clear.

Most city, county, school board and authority attorneys in Georgia do not understand the Georgia Open Meetings Act and do not give good advice regarding compliance.

Either they base their opinions on the old sunshine laws, written before the 2012 rewrite of the Open Meetings / Open Records Act, or they interpret the law broadly when the General Assembly has clearly said any exceptions to open meetings and public records must be interpreted narrowly.

According to the report in the Gainesville Times, in the Habersham County case, while Senior Judge Robert Struble wrote that some violations did not cause substantial harm, he said such actions “cannot be condoned.”

Executive sessions that go beyond the specific terms of the sale or lease of a piece of real estate, a discussion about a specific government employee that does not include the hearing of any evidence and a discussion about an actual or pending lawsuit, cannot be condoned here either.

Violations of open government laws are violations of the public trust and the public, the newspaper and government officials themselves should not tolerate the good old boy politics any longer.

In Habersham officials have found out there are at least 41,000 reasons to obey the law

Latest Activity: Feb 09, 2016 at 4:20 PM

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