Judge W. Fletcher Sams has signed a Consent Order in Upson Superior Court granting the City of Thomaston access to Upson County’s records and requiring the county to pay the city’s attorney’s fees. The court action stems from a lawsuit the city filed against the county in May, claiming the county failed since May 2011 to adhere to the state’s Open Records Act by providing the city with requested information in regards to the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) negotiations.
At the Thomaston City Council meeting Tuesday night, City Attorney Joel Bentley stated that the city and county entered a Consent Order on Sept. 27 concerning the city’s access to county records. The order, signed by Judge Sams, requires that the county “shall make the [county’s]records storage facilities available for research by [city’s] employees for records requests made by [the city], upon written request of the [city], within three business days of [the city’s] request.
“In an unusual move,” Bentley added, “Judge Sams kept the case open and active, so that any future disputes over the city’s access to the county’s records can be resolved more immediately without the necessity of the city against filing suit.”
It also orders the county to pay the city $5,362 in attorney’s fees the city incurred in bringing the suit against the county.
The city has sought basic financial records of the county since May 2011 to prepare for negotiating with the county over the allocation of LOST proceeds between the city and county and for use in discussing service delivery between the city and county. For more than a year, the county failed to release the records, forcing the city to file suit in May. The Georgia Open Records Act requires governments to retain certain records and produce them for public inspection upon written request.
“It was frustrating to have to take such measures to see records that should be public and open for all citizens of the county and city to see at any time,” said Mayor Hays Arnold. “The city has attempted all along to be reasonable, seeking only commonly maintained records such as budgets, bank records, and payroll records, yet for over a year we have been stonewalled by the county. It has been a tremendous waste of effort and resources and a long delay for us to get what should be an open book to the public. The lack of transparency has been mystifying and frustrating.
“We are very happy with the court’s order so that we can move forward with the city’s responsibility to get its citizens their fair share of the LOST proceeds and get the best and most economical services possible.
“I have spent many years in the political arena, and I have never seen, and never thought, that in my life politically, I would ever see anything precisely as I have seen as it is related to this Open Records dispute between the city and the county,” Mayor Arnold added. “I hope that this has, for once and for all, put this aside so we can move on to other things.”