Roswell to pay attorney’s fees to media group in open records case

Roswell councilmembers agreed to settle an open records lawsuit brought by Appen Media Group. AJC FILE PHOTO

Roswell councilmembers agreed to settle an open records lawsuit brought by Appen Media Group. AJC FILE PHOTO

Roswell leaders voted this week to settle a long-running open records lawsuit with a local media company.

Councilmembers on Monday unanimously agreed to pay $10,500 in attorney's fees for Appen Media Group. The city will also give Appen Media Group a year's worth of free open records requests.

Council approved the settlement without any discussion, and a spokesperson for the city said the city attorney had no additional comment. As part of the settlement, the city did not admit any wrongdoing.

“The fact that they are reimbursing our attorney’s fees, I think speaks for itself,” said Hans Appen, the publisher of Appen Media Group.

Roswell had already agreed in July to make full police reports available in response to requests for public records after Appen Media Group accused the city of redacting information from incident reports that should be publicly available. The company's suit also said Roswell was taking longer than it should to comply with requests, and the cost of getting records had risen.

Appen Media Group publishes the Alpharetta-Roswell Herald, which includes a page of crime reports that has information from the narratives of police reports in both cities. Without accurate information about crime in Roswell, Appen said, residents are left with the mistaken impression that Alpharetta has more crime, when that is not the case.

Appen said he still didn’t think the city was totally in compliance with the law, but it is working toward it.

“We’re optimistic about getting our reports going forward,” he said. “I’m glad it’s done.”

The company raised more than $4,000 in a GoFundMe to cover the costs of the suit. Appen said Roswell’s contribution won’t totally cover the attorney’s fees, and any money that is left over from the GoFundMe will be donated to the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

Ben Burnett, an Alpharetta councilman who donated his $900 city salary to the fundraiser this summer, said he was glad to have done so.

“Just because you admit no guilt doesn’t mean you’re not guilty as sin,” he said.

Staff writer Ben Brasch contributed to this story.