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Judge stands by order for city to turn over info on fire chief candidates

Published: May. 7, 2021 at 3:09 PM EDT|Updated: May. 7, 2021 at 4:13 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - A judge on Friday confirmed 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.

And he gave city officials until Monday to comply.

News 12 teamed up with other local news outlets to fight for transparency in the process of choosing a new fire chief, and we went to court on Monday of this week. After our day in court, Judge Jesse C. Stone issued a decision Wednesday that the city must turn over the documents.

However, city officials said the order was unclear and they asked for clarity, so we went back to court on Friday and prevailed again, with the city getting a deadline. The city also must take no final action appointing the new fire chief for at least 14 calendar days after the records are released.

Two of Augusta’s 10 commissioners were at Friday’s hearing.

The judge said under state law, the city must turn over information on the three best-qualified candidates.

What led to the courtroom battle is that after an extensive search for fire chief candidates, the city brought in four to interview.

After selecting one of them as the finalist, the city provided some information on that person — Antonio Burden from DeKalb County — but nothing about the others who were interviewed, not even revealing their names.

Antonio Burden
Antonio Burden(WRDW)

City officials have said that publicly revealing information about them could get them fired from their current jobs.

Stone said any candidates who are concerned about their names being made public can choose not to be identified — if they withdraw themselves from consideration for the job.

Among the legal questions was whether three was a minimum or a maximum number of candidates whose information must be revealed. In this case, it’s the minimum, the judge said, since the city narrowed down the list to more than that many.

One view by the city’s attorneys was that perhaps there weren’t three best-qualified candidates but only one. The judge didn’t buy that argument, saying the number of candidates brought in for interviews was obviously narrowed down from some larger number.

City attorneys had no comment after Friday’s decision in favor of local news media.

Here’s Stone’s Wednesday decision:

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