Valdosta Daily Times

February 15, 2014

Violating public trust

The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens successfully fought for and implemented changes to the state’s Open Records law, believing that transparency in government is essential to the public trust. The law passed in 2012 states, “The General Assembly finds and declares that the strong public policy of this state is in favor of open government; that open government is essential to a free, open, and democratic society; and that public access to public records should be encouraged to foster confidence in government and so that the public can evaluate the expenditure of public funds and the efficient and proper functioning of its institutions.”

The Times asked for information from Lowndes County school system’ officials. Filed an official Open Records request in keeping with the law. And yet did not receive the answers or the documentation regarding the assistant school superintendent — a public official- from the administration of a public, taxpayer funded institution.

Another segment of the Open Records Act of 2012 states specifically:

“Agencies shall produce for inspection all records responsive to a request within a reasonable amount of time not to exceed three business days of receipt of a request; provided, however, that nothing in this chapter shall require agencies to produce records in response to a request if such records did not exist at the time of the request. In those instances where some, but not all, records are available within three business days, an agency shall make available within that period those records that can be located and produced. In any instance where records are unavailable within three business days of receipt of the request, and responsive records exist, the agency shall, within such time period, provide the requester with a description of such records and a timeline for when the records will be available for inspection or copying and provide the responsive records or access thereto as soon as practicable.”

 The fact that the report from an outside investigation was submitted to officials within the three day time frame of the Open Records request and was not included might be understood as the Board needed an opportunity to review it. But the fact that the system also failed to provide a description or a timeline when the report would be available is a technical and moral lapse on the part of the school system.

The public has a right to know. The press has a right to request. These rights are protected by state law. Public officials have the responsibility to be open in their actions and abide by not only the letter of the law but also the spirit and intent. When they fail to do so, it erodes the public’s trust.