The human resource department, responsible for processing Open Records Requests, failed to respond to multiple requests made by The Collegian. According to the Georgia Open Records Act, the required response time for such requests must not “exceed three business days.”
“Taking nearly a month to ‘review’ and provide access to budget information already discussed at a public meeting is unacceptable, and is indicative of an attitude that is totally at odds with the purpose and intent of Georgia’s Open Records Act,” said SPLC consulting attorney Mike Hiestand, confirming the administration’s “utter disregard for the law.”
The Collegian requested an electronic copy of final recommendations presented at the 2010 Student Activity Fee budget hearing on Feb. 25, but the request was denied by Dean of Student Services Deborah Homer, which forced the newspaper to file an Open Records Request for the documents on March 1.
The Collegian was also denied copies of four campus budget proposals (only Decatur campus provided the documents to reporters) that were discussed in at the campus SAF budget hearing on March 18. Reporters were told to file Open Records Requests—these requests were submitted on March 21.
These requests, along with three requests submitted on March 18, did not receive responses until the administration was notified of the complaint to the attorney general on March 28; the responses arrived the next day.
The March 1 request was also processed on the same day. However, the department charged the student newspaper $143 for over four hours of “labor costs” in gathering the electronic files. As of press time, The Collegian is in dispute of these costs.
While the attorney general’s office indicated they will “forward the complaint to the right places,” Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter would neither confirm nor deny that the administration’s actions were unlawful. Because the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is a client of the attorney general’s office, performing a mediation between The Collegian and GPC would be a conflict of interest, Ritter said.
“We cannot get them to respond to the records if they haven’t already,” said Ritter. “We just don’t have the authority to do that–they have to do it themselves.”
On April 1, GPC’s legal consultant Warren Fortson said he was unaware of the current situation and had not received any notification from the attorney general’s office. As of press time, he declined to comment until further investigation into the matter.
During the weekly SGA meeting at the Newton campus on April 1, the documents on the agenda were emailed to all committee members prior to the meeting, including a revised form of the campus’ special allocations requests. These forms were not made available to reporters and observers.
Student Life Director Stephan Moore said there will no longer be physical documents available for the public during the meetings. Agenda sheets are regularly made available during the public meetings of cities and counties in Georgia.
By Sabastian Wee, Editor-in-Chief