Open Meetings case used to protest $2 million land deal

In one of the first cases involving Georgia’s revised open meetings law, a Forsyth County Superior Court judge has refused to reconsider his ruling that a $2 million land deal, approved by the Cumming City Council, was legal.

The case has spawned three lawsuits and captured the attention of Attorney General Sam Olens.

Olens has accused the city of violating the open meetings law by prohibiting the recording of proceedings at the April 17, 2012 meeting. If found in violation, the city faces more than $6,000 in fines, plus attorney’s fees, which could run into tens of thousands of dollars.

In addition, a federal suit was filed by local activist, Nydia Tisdale, who was forcibly removed from the April 17 meeting for video recording the session. She is seeking punitive damages.

A third suit, filed last fall by Tisdale in Forsyth County Superior Court argues that a land purchase approved during that same meeting was improper. She argued a deed recording the sale was filed one day before the City Council voted to approve it in open session.

Forsyth County Superior Court Judge Robert Struble ruled March 1 that the land purchase was legal. He reiterated that opinion last week after Tisdale argued the open meetings violation voids any action taken during the April 17 meeting.

Tisdale filed a motion Monday to appeal the decision directly to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt had police remove Tisdale from the meeting after she refused to turn off her video camera. On her way out, Tisdale warned the mayor and council they were violating the state’s open meetings law and that she would file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office.

“One of the officers said to me, ‘Now go file your complaint,’ and I felt that was indignant, and he didn’t have concern for the private citizen,” Tisdale said.

The city argued that Tisdale returned to the meeting, watched the entire proceedings but waited until October to raise the issue of the land deal.

It is not clear how the attorney general’s case, which is scheduled for oral arguments next month, could affect the land purchase decision.

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