The Citizen runs into delays seeking info about disciplinary actions by Fayette

Editor’s note: In the wake of the much-publicized problems with the Fayette County Water System, The Citizen has been seeking to inspect a letter to Fayette County government from an employee of the Fayette County Water System who has been fired.

In addition, The Citizen has requested more information about the announced discipline of five unnamed county employees as a result of the water system problems.

The county’s “interim” lawyer has now gotten involved, with replies to our email requests coming in the form of a legal letter through the U.S. Mail. Quick response via email from the county — at least on this subject — has ended.

We will keep you posted on what happens next. Here is the series of letters that has ensued:

Subject: Open Records Request — a quick one!

Date: August 19, 2013 2:11:13 PM EDT

To: Floyd Jones (fjones@fayettecountyga.gov)

This is much smaller in scope than the last....

I need a copy of the letter from a former water system employee, last name McKinley, about various issues with the Crosstown water treatment plant and perhaps the entire water system. I believe this letter has been passed on to you from Chairman Brown. I am not 100 percent sure but I think it was dated sometime in the past month or two.

Many thanks in advance,

John Munford

The Fayette Citizen

From: John Munford

Subject: Re: Press Release — Fayette County Water System

Date: August 23, 2013 11:19:42 AM EDT

To: Floyd Jones, Steve Rapson

Hi, Floyd, I would like to go ahead and put in an open records request for ALL documents regarding the discipline meted out to these five unnamed employees.

Consider this request to include — but not be limited to — the emails between county leadership and these employees, internal memorandums, emails and the documents detailing the specifics of each disciplinary action.

Please also provide each employee’s previous salary rate and their new salary rate following the disciplinary action, as well as their job titles before the discipline and their new titles after the discipline.

And just to be a bit more specific with this request, although the finely worded press release we got does NOT name names, I fully expect that no employee names will be redacted from any of the documents we receive.

ALSO, and I consider this a matter of utmost importance, my emailed open records request from Monday afternoon for the McKinley letter has NOT been responded to within the statutorily required three-day waiting period, and I admit to being more than a bit irritated about this. Please advise when you can provide that document to me.

Many thanks in advance,

John Munford

The Fayette Citizen

[The following is a hard-copy letter dated Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013, but received by The Citizen on Monday, Aug. 26.] Re: Open Records Request dated August 19, 2013 addressed to Fayette County

Dear Mr. Munford: I am in receipt of the above-referenced open records request. This request was received by the County Clerk, Mr. Floyd Jones, on Monday, August 19, 2013. I will be responding on behalf of Mr. Jones.

You have made a request under the Open Records Act, O.C.G.A. 50-18-70 for a letter from a former water system employee named McKinley.

The records custodian represents that there is a document in the custody of the County that is responsive to your request.

However, because this document is part of an investigation of a complaint against a public employee, it is exempted from disclosure under the Open Records Act pursuant to O.C.G.A. 50-18-72(a)(8).

Said document will become available for inspection and examination ten days after the results of the investigation is presented for action or the investigation is otherwise concluded or terminated.

I trust this information satisfactorily responds to your request.

Yours very truly,

Patrick A. Stough

Assistant Interim County Attorney

Fayette County, Georgia

[To Fayette County Clerk Floyd Jones from John Munford of The Citizen on Monday, Aug. 26:]

In light of the county’s response to my Aug. 19 open records request for the McKinley letter, we are expanding our open records request as follows:

• A copy of the entire “complaint against a public employee” that was referenced in Mr. Stough’s Aug. 22 letter responding to my original request for the McKinley letter. Along with the original complaint, we seek copies of all investigative files stemming from this complaint.

• A copy of any “complaint against a public employee” involving any one or more water system employees, along with the copies of all investigative files compiled during the probe.

• A copy of all email documents and any notes and/or electronic recordings (whether audio and/or video) which were a part of such “investigation of a complaint against a public employee.”

• A copy of the minutes of any public meeting at which any evidence was received or argument was made on whether to impose disciplinary action or dismissal of any water system employees in the past three months.

If such does not exist, we want copies of the executive session minutes from all Board of Commissioners meetings for the past three months to determine if any evidence or argument was heard during executive session in apparent violation of Georgia’s open meetings act.

• A copy of all emails between County Administrator Steve Rapson and any member or members of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners discussing the investigation and/or the potential discipline or dismissal of water system employees up to a month before the county’s investigation began.

• A copy of all notes — hand-written, electronic or otherwise transcribed — taken by county staff and specifically Mr. Rapson during any conversations Mr. Rapson had with any member of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners regarding the investigation and/or potential discipline/dismissal of water system employees up to a month prior to the inception of the county’s investigation into the water system employees.

• A copy of any records indicating tallies or votes taken in either formal or informal polling of commissioners in respect to the investigation of water system employees and also the discipline or dismissal of water system employees.

• A copy of all “evidence” gathered to be used in possible consideration of potential discipline/dismissal of water system employees, whether said evidence was — or was not — part of the formal “investigation of a complaint against a public employee” cited by Mr. Stough’s email.

• A copy of all records indicating the date upon which the “complaint against a public employee” was received, who received it, who reviewed it, who rendered the decision based on the investigation, and the date of its conclusion, if it has already concluded. If it has not concluded, please indicate the anticipated date of its conclusion.

• A copy of the disciplinary measures taken against water system employees as referred to in the county press release entitled “Fayette County Takes Disciplinary Action — Water System” as released Aug. 23.

In closing, I have been asked to specifically request electronic communication of the county’s response to this open records request instead of the much-slower process of getting a reply by mail, which can delay communications by several days. According to our publisher, the use of a mail reply “could be interpreted as an attempt to delay responsiveness.”

Many thanks and I look forward to reviewing all of the documents above.

John Munford [for The Citizen]

Husband and Fat...
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Mr. Beverly or Mumford

Are you permitted to contact the former employee to get a copy of the letter?

The findings could be sour grapes from being terminated or a very telling document that those in charge are hiding in fear of the ramifications.

This letter could explain a lot.

moelarrycurly
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Husband-off topic a little

As one who has lived their life having their last name misspelled, mispronounced and otherwise mangled, I am overly sensitive to this dinky little issue. John's last name is MuNford, not Mumford. As one who has been there before, I am sure he would appreciate a correct spelling. No big deal and I am not trying to call you out here, just one of my little pecadillos:)

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I stand corrected

My apologies to Mr. Munford. Thank you for the correction

moelarrycurly
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Thank you

back.

AtHomeGym
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Open Records Request

Oh Transparency, wherefore art thou? Perhaps, just perhaps, some of the requested materials do not fall into the "open records" category. Does anyone know if any of those records are specifically prohibited by GA Law from being produced/provided? Are they, in fact, considered to be "Public Records" or are they protected from disclosure? Surely the Citizen had some legal consult prior to generating this request.

Editor
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An Open Records primer

I made my first open records request as a radio news reporter in 1970, before there was even an Open Meetings law on the books in Georgia (put there, by the way, by Gov. Jimmy Carter). Over the years, I've been involved in at least two lawsuits to get something secret opened up to public scrutiny. I'm batting .500 in that arena controlled by the judges.

Openness waxes and wanes over the years, but things have tightened up in the past decade, so that agencies and local governments have available to them many more DISCRETIONARY exclusions to providing voters, taxpayers and ordinary citizens with records of how tax money is being spent and government officials are conducting what is ultimately the public's business.

The word every citizen should latch on to is DISCRETIONARY. Almost ALL such exclusions in the law are optional and such records are not REQUIRED by law to be kept secret.

The few exceptions have to do with individual and corporate tax returns, trade secrets, grand jury deliberations, certain law enforcement investigations, adoptions, concealed carry permits, etc.

All the rest, including real estate deal making, personnel issues, etc., MAY be closed for periods of time by the governing agency. But the agency in MOST cases could also choose to forgo the optional secrecy and let the people who pay their salaries know what is going on behind those closed doors.

In the current case before us, nothing in state law requires the county to make everybody wait 10 days. It's within the county's discretion to release all such information at any time it desires. But for various reasons, the county just doesn't desire instant transparency most of the time.

Same goes for Open Meetings law. No board is required to hold secret meetings on "Real Estate," "Personnel," etc. It's just easier — and sometimes less embarrassing — for them to shut us all out and blame it on the "law." And — granted — sometimes it's just more efficient for that body to keep things secret.

I contend our democratic republic form of government is intentionally less efficient than a dictatorship would be. And I contend that transparency is the price public officials must pay to the public that pays them.

— Cal Beverly (a graying grunt in the ongoing trench war to keep our governments answerable to us, the public)

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Important lesson
Quote:

I contend our democratic republic form of government is intentionally less efficient than a dictatorship would be

Thank heavens for the 'graying grunts'!

Husband and Fat...
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Nice to see Mr. Munford

Speak at last evenings meeting requesting the information.

Very professional and without emotion.

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