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    AG seeks sunnier open records law, admits clouds remain

     

    By MAGGIE LEE
    Hearings will start this month on an overhaul of Georgia’s sunshine law that would open more meetings to the public and pull hidden public records out of private databases. Attorney General Sam Olens predicts House Bill 397 can pass the state Legislature next year, though he admitted the law doesn’t go as far as he would like.
    In government “everyone should be subject to the Open Records Act,” he told Thursday’s meeting of the Atlanta Press Club. “But I need a bill that will pass.”
    His office’s draft bill would still exempt the state Legislature from open records requirements. If the Legislature didn’t remain exempt, Olens predicted, “I suggest HB 397 will be D.O.A.”
    The bill also makes agencies release records that they’ve contracted out to private agencies. AJC investigative reporter John Perry told the meeting that the Atlanta water department tried to charge the newspaper $20,000 for access to its records — because that’s what its data-storage vendor would charge to retrieve the data.
    Olens’ bill would not let government agencies use a vendor’s bill to get out of fulfilling an open records request.
    But Olens also said there are more violations of the open meetings law than of open records.

    His draft would:

    • require all votes happen in meetings open to the public,
    • require notes to be taken in executive sessions, and
    • specifically prevent illegal meetings -> when fewer than a quorum gather to talk policy privately with the intent of evading open meeting laws.

    “[We] tried to go as far as we think we can go and still get a bill passed,” said Olens.
    First Amendment attorney Cynthia Counts disagreed. She told the same meeting this is a good chance to “push harder.”
    She wants electronic records to be the standard when available. They’re cheap compared to copying costs, which can amount to 50 cents per page plus retrieval costs.

    Once, Counts said, she was quoted $50 for three pages of public documents.

    “If it’s too expensive to get documents, nobody will get them,” she said.

    Might as well get them in a useful e-form, added Perry, who specializes in data analysis.

    He suggested a requirement that database files be provided in a universal format such as ASCII or CSV, when available. Those are filetypes that any computer can read and can sort, filter and graph into meaningful trends.

    And not in PDF format, a file type that often cannot be searched for keywords or converted for statistical analysis, Perry added.

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    Schedule & docs:

    The first HB 397 hearing is scheduled for Aug. 30 at 2 p.m. at the state Capitol, room 132. But double-check the calendar for the meeting time and place.

    Draft HB 397 text here.

     

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    4 Responses to “AG seeks sunnier open records law, admits clouds remain”

    1. Denise Caldon says:

      AG Olens’ statement at the Atlanta Press Club on Thursday in which he said, in government “everyone should be subject to the Open Records Act,” is contradictory to his position his office has held since September 2009 as they continue to seal documents confirming serious violations by the Defendants (the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia) who he and his office defend with our tax dollars in my Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act case. One violation alone affects ALL University System of Georgia employees and students and will be made public soon.
      Question to Olens: Are the cases you and your office defend for public officials (many who have contributed to his political campaign) exempt from his pledge for government transparency and stronger open records?
      My official Motion to lift the September 2009 Protective Order to Judge Doris Downs at the Fulton County Superior Court was received 2 August 2011.
      I will keep you posted on Attorney General Olens’ response to this official Motion for “Open Records.”
      Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act Case A11A0382
      ELIZABETH CALDON V. BOARD OF REGENTS
      Briefs Filed 2009CV165267 January 2009

    2. Denise Caldon says:

      AG Olens’ statement at the Atlanta Press Club on Thursday in which he said, in government “everyone should be subject to the Open Records Act,” is contradictory to his position his office has held since September 2009 as they continue to seal documents confirming serious violations by the Defendants (the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia) who he and his office defend with our tax dollars in my Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act case. One violation alone affects ALL University System of Georgia employees and students and will be made public soon.
      Question to Olens: Are the cases you and your office defend for public officials (many who have contributed to his political campaign) exempt from his pledge for government transparency and stronger open records?
      My official Motion to lift the September 2009 Protective Order to Judge Doris Downs at the Fulton County Superior Court was received 2 August 2011.
      I will keep you posted on Attorney General Olens’ response to this official Motion for “Open Records.”
      Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act Case A11A0382
      ELIZABETH CALDON V. BOARD OF REGENTS
      Briefs Filed 2009CV165267 January 2009

    3. Denise Caldon says:

      Our self-proclaimed “Open Records” advocate, Georgia’s Attorney General Sam Olens, and his staff, filed an Objection to the Motion to finally lift the Protective Order that would have finally allowed Georgians and the media to read the facts. Olens mandates Open Records to others, but allows himself to be exempt in the cases he and his office defend.

      And Judge Doris Downs allowed it! No wonder the FBI in Atlanta has been reported to have created a task force to “investigate corruption among legislators and judges in Georgia.” See Associated Press article dated 22 August 2011.

    4. Denise Caldon says:

      UPDATE: “Open Records” advocate, Attorney General Sam Olens has filed two “Responses in Opposition” to both Motion to lift the Protective Order that keeps the violations by HIS Defendants – the Board of Regents of the USG – sealed.
      Dates of Olens’ Objections: 11 August 2011 and 2 February 2012. Attorney General Sam Olens is using the “HIPPA” Law for his excuse as his Defendants and him covered up serious issues with the USG president – confirmed in sealed Depositions. I have offered to keep those non-compliances sealed, but Olens is determined to keep ALL the violations from public view. I will be filing another Motion. The issues will be corrected in private or public – his choice.

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