Metro Atlanta governments fail test to provide public records (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

 

Metro Atlanta governments do a poor job fulfilling requests for public information, a Georgia News Lab investigation has found.

KENNESAW, Ga. (Jan 2, 2017) — By Jacob Durst, Ashley Graham and Maureen Sheeran - For the AJC (Dec. 27, 2016)

Citizens rely on Georgia’s open records law to get information about their children’s schools, get records about zoning disputes and figures about how their elected officials spend tax money.

But dozens of local Atlanta agencies didn’t comply with the state law when the News Lab, a student-led collaboration with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News, sent requests for basic information.

Student journalists sent public records requests to 148 local governments and police agencies in 13 metro counties and found that:

A third did not meet the state law’s requirement for a response within three business days; 
A quarter only complied with the law after two or three phone calls or follow-up emails; 
Nineteen agencies, or roughly 13 percent, took more than 20 business days to provide the requested records — and four never provided them at all. ...

Some agencies provided records quickly and free of charge, while others sought fees of more than $50. The city of Fayetteville estimated that it might cost $430 to allow reporters to access payroll records that it said could not be provided electronically. Copying the records would incur additional fees. Other agencies sought lower fees but required money orders sent by mail for sums as small as 60 cents.

Carolyn Carlson, Assistant Director of the Journalism and Emerging Media program at Kennesaw State University, said large fee requests by agencies can be a negotiation tactic.

“Sometimes, when they give you a large amount, (it’s) because they want you to narrow your request,” said Carlson, who led audits of open record law compliance in 2008 and 2010.

In other cases, Carlson said, when they ask for a lot of money, “usually they’re just trying to get rid of you.”

“There’s not a whole lot you can do if they decide to charge you a lot,” she said. ...

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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