After reporting from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News showed city staff had intentionally frustrated access to public records and made misrepresentations about public records, the two media organizations filed a complaint with Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr asking him to intervene. Carr's office began to mediate talks between the city and the AJC and Channel 2. The council passed the ordinance last week. The law has been described as national model for other governments to follow.
A MEASURE OF INDEPENDENCE
The law creates a new position: transparency officer, who oversees the production of public records in response to an requests made under the Georgia Open Records Act. The transparency officer is a mayoral appointee, confirmed by the council for a three-year term. The city official can only be fired by the mayor for cause, and the reason must be described in writing.
PRIVATE DEVICES SUBJECT TO SEARCH
The ordinance explicitly makes messages involving public business on private cellphones and other devices subject to the Open Records Act. While the AJC and Channel 2 were in negotiations with the city about the ordinance, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' press office initially denied an AJC public records request for text messages between Bottoms and Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, arguing that because APS had already produced the messages, the city didn't have to produce the records. The city eventually turned over the records after the AJC argued that the city's position was inconsistent with the Georgia Open Records Act.
IT’S NOT THE FINAL WORD ON THE MATTER
The ordinance also mandates the creating of a web portal for the public to track open records requests and annual training on the state's open records law for employees. Still, some don't think the ordinance goes far enough. Atlanta City Council President Felicia Moore has argued that for the transparency officer to be truly independent, he or she should not be a mayoral appointee. Moore said she is working on legislation to create a compliance office that reports to an independent board. Many of the transparency officer's duties described in the ordinance would also full under the compliance office that Moore said she intends to propose later this fall.