2010 public records compliance audit: Closer, still no cigar
Public officials laughed, snarled and stalled when asked to release documents under the Georgia Open Records Act, a new audit has found.
Overall, public institutions did a better job this year handling requests for public records, giving up 80 percent of the documents, according to the 2010 Georgia Student Sunshine Audit, released Wednesday. That compares with a 65 percent success rate in the last such audit in 2008.
Still, one in five university journalism students were denied access to documents that clearly should be public, the audit reported. The most frequent withholders of records, the students said, were … universities.
Students at seven Georgia universities audited 121 city governments, library systems, school boards and universities by submitting requests for budgets, contracts, arrest reports and the like. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation sponsored the audit.
A few examples of the students’ difficulties:
Darah Protas, a senior at Emory University, was first told that private universities don’t have to disclose arrest records, even though state law was changed in 2006 to require release of that information:
Seeking the most recent arrest record at Agnes Scott, Protas resisted when presented with a five-year-old record. The college safety official said “he had complied with the request by giving me a record and I told him, again, that it wasn’t the document I had requested. He became defensive and said that he didn’t want to be rousted and that he didn’t have to comply with the Open Records Act and that he was doing me a favor by giving me the document,” Protas reported. “I told him that official Georgia code says campus police records are open records,” she added.
At Armstrong State University in Savannah, a student obtained only a portion of the school’s contract with its primary food vendor after a university employee got all up in her grill:
A university employee confronted the student “in a very unprofessional manner” and insisted she submit a valid reason for the request. Discovering that Brown attended another school, she urged the student to obtain the contract from her own university. “I then told her that to my knowledge she is required by law to give me these documents and I would be more than happy to submit a formal document requesting this copy,” the student related. “She then got very upset and said, ‘Well then, you have to email me a public records request and this is expensive because you will have to pay for the copies and for the price of my labor because I would need to find it.’”
And a Fulton County library official apparently was amused at one student’s request:
Shaniqua Christian of Georgia State University encountered an evasive, guffawing official when she sought a copy of the Fulton County Library budget and then was ignored. On a return trip, she was told the official wasn’t in that day, although she had seen him enter his office.