Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

Political Vine: The Insider's Source on Georgia Politics

The Political Vine is the home of political news, satire, rants, and rumors.

HB 397 – Bait and Switch by the Georgia Attorney General

by PV

Rumors have it that while Attorney General Sam Olens and State Representative Jay Powell have been touting HB 397 as “The Sunshine Bill” designed to provide more “transparency” to state, county and local governments, in fact, it is making it more challenging to access information by way of throwing-up financial barriers to make it more expensive to obtain information under Open Records Act laws for no other reason than to make it more expensive for ordinary citizens to uncover corruption in their government.

PV Provides The Evidence: For YEARS, the Open Records Act allowed for the access to information “maintained by computer” by any agency to be delivered via the Internet where practical. In fact, this is how the law currently reads under OCGA Section 50-18-70(g):

“At the request of the person, firm, corporation, or other entity requesting such records, records maintained by computer shall be made available where practicable by electronic means, including Internet access, subject to reasonable security restrictions preventing access to nonrequested or nonavailable records.”

In the most recent version of HB 397, this entire section is crossed-out, thereby meaning that agencies (e.g., Cobb County Government…the entity AG Olens is a former county commission chairman of) no longer have to forward emails sent by anyone in the agency…and that, instead, each email would have to be printed-out and a copy purchased for $0.10 per copy.

(AND…by the way, it was in the original version of the bill as well, so nobody better claim “Oh, it must have been struck by the other guy…we’re not responsible for that”)

If this bill passes as is, it will seriously impede all efforts by citizens, bloggers, news media, or whoever to obtain by electronic means records that are ALREADY in electronic format and able to be transmitted over the Internet.

Furthermore…there’s also this new addition to the law which makes the retrieval of emails written by government officials, employees, or whoever in a Georgia government state, local, or county agency much more difficult to uncover corruption and illegal acts by government officials:

“OCGA 50-18-71(g): “Requests to inspect or copy electronic messages, whether in the form of e-mail, text message, or other format, should contain information about the messages that is reasonably calculated to allow the recipient of the request to locate the messages sought, including, if known, the name, title, or office of the specific person or persons whose electronic messages are sought and, to the extent possible, the specific data bases to be searched for such messages.”

You see, right now, people have to pay money for the search and retrieval time and any other research time spent by an agency for any time greater than 15 minutes.

So, since the onus already exists on the person making the request to pay money for the search and retrieval time, there should be no problem with any government entity in Georgia dealing with a blanket request for, as an example, “all emails between Faye DiMassimo and anyone at Brock & Clay Public Affairs” without the requestor having to specify by “reasonable calculation” (whatever the heck THAT means…go try arguing with an attorney on what the definition of “reasonable” is as he/she is charging you for the time to argue…) the names of the people at Brock & Clay PA the requestor is interested in seeing the email traffic from.

PV Is Disgusted: The only…Only…ONLY reason to strike-out the “deliverable by Internet” part of the law is to deliberately block someone from accessing information without them having to expend a lot more time and money to have to actually travel to a government agency and obtain copies of the information.

AND…the striking of this section actually dovetails quite nicely with the rumor PV heard regarding AG Olens making frequent trips to the Cobb County Commission to mentor Tim Lee, and listen to Tim Lee’s problems with all the open records requests being filed by the many Cobb community activists (one being PV, by the way) who are intent on uncovering the corruption that has long been embedded in Cobb County Government.

The deliberate striking of the section of the ORA concerning delivery of computerized records by Internet is a blatant attempt to send Georgia back to the Stone Age for access to “openness” and “transparency” in our government.

While the AJC is busy gives kudos and backslaps to Powell and Olens, PV sees a different intent altogether with this bill: Bait-and-Switch of what the definition of “Sunshine” should really entail.

There is not one corrupt-free reason that Section 50-18-70(g) should have been struck from the law. Everyone has a computer these days…all governments do as well, and to strike this requirement demonstrates someone had forethought and deliberate intent to make it a whole LOT more challenging for people to access public information from their governments. The only question remains is WHO that person was?

There will be more Alerts issued this week as PV wades through this bill and wonders what other land mines lie in wait for our so-called “open and transparency-based government in this state.” Stay tuned.

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Today's Deep Thought

If I was the head of a country that lost a war, and I had to sign a peace treaty, just as I was signing, I'd glance over the treaty and then suddenly act surprised. 'Wait a minute! I thought we won!'


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