Watchdog group sues Gwinnett chamber over open records



LAWRENCEVILLE, Ga. - A Gwinnett County citizen watchdog group is suing Gwinnett County and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce for violating the state's open records law.

Sabrina Smith with Gwinnett County Citizens for Responsible Government told Channel 2's Kerry Kavanaugh she wants a full accounting of how the chamber is spending millions of public dollars.

The lawsuit claims the chamber may be spending some of that money illegally.

"I think that's an issue for all taxpayers in Gwinnett County," Smith said.

For the past five years Gwinnett County has outsourced all economic development to the chamber. It's an annual expense of $500,000 per year.

Smith and her attorney Chris McClurg said the chamber could be using that money to advocate for political positions and ballot referendums, which they say is against the law.

"We the people have a right to know what our elected officials are doing on our behalf and with our money," McClurg said.

They claim they can't get any answers.

Smith said she began filing open records requests in February. Months have passed and Smith claims the chamber's only response to date has been 'no.'

"Not one document," McClurg said.

This month, McClurg filed a lawsuit claiming that's a violation of Georgia's Open Records Act.

The Chamber of Commerce has denied using tax dollars to support political positions.

But according to their report card, they ran an advocacy campaign for the 2012 TSPLOST and supported Gwinnett County Schools efforts to maintain local control of charter schools.

"They cannot use public money to advocate for positions and then deny that they're doing it," Smith said.

A judge will hear the issue next month.

Kavanaugh reached out to the Chamber of Commerce for a comment on the lawsuit, but has gotten no response so far.

For the past couple of months, the Gwinnett County Commission has been working with the chamber to create a separate entity that would only handle the public funds.

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