Horgan: Warning sounded before open meetings violation

Brown admits committee failed to provide notice of county manager interviews

Fayette County Commissioner Robert Horgan has filed an open meetings complaint with the state attorney general, accusing two of his fellow commissioners and the three newly-elected (but unsworn) commissioners, of failing to provide advance notice of their meeting as required by a newly amended state Open Meetings law.

The complaint centers around two meetings called on Sept. 26 and 27 by commissioners Steve Brown and Allen McCarty along with commissioners-elect Randy Ognio, Charles Oddo and David Barlow. The purpose of the meetings was to interview candidates for the position of county manager.

Horgan alleges that County Administrator Jack Krakeel and County Attorney Scott Bennett both warned of problems with the interview process in advance, but the interviews were not postponed to meet the requirements of the new law. Brown has acknowledged that Krakeel shared his concerns just after 5 p.m. the day before the interviews.

That comment sent Brown scrambling to call legal counsel for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia along with the state attorney general’s office “to see if there was any merit to what Krakeel claimed,” according to an email sent by Brown.

Brown said once it was confirmed that the law changed, he contacted representatives of both newspapers immediately.

Brown has already accepted the blame for failing to meet the advance notice requirements of the law, claiming that he did not know until the middle of the interview process Sept. 26 that the law had been amended and updated earlier in the year by the Georgia Legislature. Brown has said he got no notices about the changes from the Association of County Commission Governments, a statewide organization which advocates for county commissions, nor from the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, of which Brown is also a member.

Horgan said he decided to file the complaint after noticing an article on the new law was published in the September edition of the ACCG magazine. Horgan previously has taken a stance against the actions of the group, saying he couldn’t vote for their selected candidate, Union City City Manager Steve Rapson, a Peachtree City resident because he hadn’t had a chance to even meet him in person.

“Despite these interviews being scheduled well in advance of their meeting, this committee did not notify the local newspaper of their meeting, did not prepare and post an agenda for their meeting, and did not allow the public to participate in their meeting,” Horgan wrote in the complaint to Attorney General Sam Olens. “Due to the pre-scheduled interviews, the committee had adequate time to post the meeting date and time on the county’s web site. It did not. The committee did not notify in written or oral notice at least 24 hours in advance to the legal organ or any other paper in our community that has general circulation.”

Furthermore, judging by the minutes of the two meetings, it appears that a third secret meeting was held for the group to determine who its final selection would be for the position, Horgan said.

Otherwise the commissioners would have likely communicated by phone or email, which is not an appropriate avenue to discuss such an important decision, Horgan said.

The only record of such a meeting is when Brown sent an email to the county’s human resources department saying that “hey we’ve come up with our final choice,” Horgan said.

In his complaint, Horgan is asking Olens to levy criminal fines and a civil penalty if it is determined that an open meetings violation took place. Horgan said while he doesn’t blame the incoming commissioners as much, he felt that Brown and McCarty “should have known better.”

Neither Horgan nor outgoing commissioners Herb Frady and Lee Hearn were invited to attend the interviews, despite the fact that not only were they being asked to vote for the committee’s recommendation but also that they extended the gesture to begin with when they were under no obligation to do so.

Although there was no formal commission vote to appoint Brown, McCarty, Ognio, Oddo and Barlow as an official committee, Horgan contends the commission agreed unanimously by consensus to have them act as a committee. The committee members had access to the formal applications filed for the county administrator position, documents that were not available to any citizen at the time under the state open records law.

Part of the reason that Horgan, Frady and Hearn asked their newly-elected replacements to work on sorting through the county manager candidates was to have a transition period at the end of this year so the new county manager could be shown the ropes by retiring county manager Jack Krakeel. Those plans appear to be off, and the new commission plans to officially hire Rapson in January.

The potential hiring of Rapson has ruffled some feathers on the commission because of his close political relationship with Brown, as the two served together a number of years back on the Peachtree City Council when Brown was mayor.

Brown said that relationship created a trust in Rapson, particularly for his financial acumen and also because he knows how Rapson will react in certain situations.