Judge orders city to turn over info on fire chief candidates

Published: May. 5, 2021 at 4:47 PM EDT|Updated: May. 5, 2021 at 5:22 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A judge ruled today that the city of Augusta must give News 12 and other local media the information about job candidates who were interviewed to become the city’s next fire chief.

News 12 teamed up with other local news outlets to fight for transparency in the process, and we went to court Monday.

Judge Jesse C. Stone said to expect a decision today, and he issued one.

His ruling addressed concerns that some candidates might not want their names made public out of fear of endangering their current jobs. He said those candidates had an opportunity to withdraw their names from consideration.

Stone gave the city three business days to “make full disclosure to Plaintiffs of all nonexempt records in the City’s possession pertaining to three persons determined by the City to be best qualified as of or effective at or about April 13, 2021.”

He said the city may make substitutions for people the city permitted to decline the release of information and who removed their names from consideration for the position.

Stone also said the city must take no final action on appointment of the new fire chief for at least 14 calendar days after the release of the records.

The decision came after the city hired an agency that cast a wide net in the search for chief. From the pool of applications, city officials selected four people to interview. We requested to see those finalists’ applications, and were denied, so we joined a lawsuit to get that information released.

Here’s Stone’s full decision:

What happened in court

In court on Monday, 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.

Antonio Burden
Antonio Burden(WRDW)

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