I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: Your rights to information in GA & SC

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Wednesday, March 13, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- By the people, for the people, that's how our government works. Information traded in city council chambers or in school board meetings or on the floor of the statehouse belongs to the people.

This is why open records laws exist, to make that information available to the public. As I-TEAM reporter Kelly Wiley reports, it isn't always as accessible as it should be.

Kelly Wiley: “Do you know what an open records request is?”

Chelsea Stutz: “I believe I know what it is."

Eric Roundtree: "I'm not one hundred percent sure but I'm pretty sure it's a government record or a civil lawsuit record that someone is requesting."

Jason: "I think it's whenever you ask the government for a document and they have to send it to you?"

Chelsea Stutz: "Where you request from city and state officials what should be public record."

Depending if you're on the Georgia side of the river or the South Carolina side, it might be called something different. But it all comes down to the same thing. You have a right to know what's going on in public agencies and offices.

In 1972, then Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter signed into law the Georgia Open Records Act in the middle of an interesting time in America.

The Washington Post reported the Watergate break-ins were tied to the Nixon campaign that year.

The open records act made it illegal to deny citizens access to public records.

That brings us to the present day. The first citations in the laws 46-year history have been filed against former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed's Press Secretary Jenna Garland.

Citations allege garland said "[d]rag this out as long as possible [a]nd provide information in the most confusing format available." This was after an Atlanta based news station sent a request for records.

The attorney general says the first two citations ever to the open records act sends a strong message:

The open records and freedom of information laws speak to a core value in America: openness and transparency.

"If something is public record, if something is being hidden it kind of makes me suspicious as to why something is hidden or public record," said Chelsea Stutz.

"It just keeps people accountable and shows that people are doing what they are supposed to be doing. Just knowing that someone is going to be checking in on you is good in government," said Jason.