I-TEAM: Judge to weigh in on fight for transparency in selection of Augusta fire chief

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 8:06 AM EDT|Updated: May. 4, 2021 at 8:13 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A judge will make his decision Wednesday on whether the city of Augusta is required to turn over documents on the fire chief candidates who interviewed for the job.

News 12 teamed up with other local news outlets to fight for transparency in the process.

The city hired an agency that cast a wide net in the search for chief.

From the pool of applications, they selected four to interview.

Antonio Burden
Antonio Burden(WRDW)

We requested to see those finalists’ applications, and were denied.

In court, the city argued it did release records on the finalist —  the one and only finalist, Antonio Burden from DeKalb County.

“If you hire important people in a local government, the public is entitled to request documents on up to three people who are your finalists,” Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson said.

City attorney Wayne Brown said: “Mr. Burden’s candidacy only goes to the floor. He has not been chosen, he may never be chosen, or he may be chosen.”

Commissioners still have to vote yes or no to hiring Burden.

“The people need this opportunity to look at the documents and go back to their commissioner and say, ‘Oh you’re making a good decision; keep it up,’ or, ‘You better look at this one’ this is a better candidate.’ But we don’t know because we haven’t seen anything on anybody other than Mr. Burden,” Hudson said.

Our I-Team uncovered a red flag in Burden’s personnel file that was news to commissioners we spoke to.

It was a five-day suspension for going to a liquor store in a county vehicle.

But out of the finalists, he’s the best one. because he’s the only one.

News 12′s fear for the public is that this will become a process cloaked in secrecy, and that there will only be finalist, singular from henceforth

“There’s a long history of commission voting up and down on several candidates at the end of a process. So there’s no basis in assuming that in this instance where there is one finalist that this is a pre-established long-term pattern,” Brown said.

As our attorney said in court, that’s a genie you can’t put back in the bottle.

“If the city got its way, no matter how many were under consideration, it could say, ‘Well, we’ve narrowed it down to one, and we’re only going to tell you about one,’” Hudson said.

When you only have one option, there isn’t much to compare.

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