ATLANTA — In an exclusive interview, Georgia's top law enforcement official told Channel 2's Richard Belcher the state's open records law needs to "mean something," and that's why he asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate possible criminal violations by the City of Atlanta.
“If we’re going to have the law, it needs to mean something, and we are investigating and seeing what happens,” said Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr.
The request is the first time the GBI has been asked to investigate criminal violations of Georgia's sunshine law. The investigation is a reaction to a Channel 2 investigation that revealed text messages, by then-Mayor Kasim Reed's press secretary, asking a subordinate to delay a records request for potentially embarrassing water billing records.
Carr was cautious in our interview but clear.
“I’m deeply committed to ensuring that the law is followed,” Carr said.
In the text messages obtained by Channel 2, former press secretary Jenna Garland told an Atlanta Watershed Management employee to “be as unhelpful as possible,” “drag this out as long as possible” and “provide information in the most confusing format available.”
“Our office has a long bipartisan record of ensuring openness and transparency in government, and our office is very proud of that traditional role we play and I’m deeply committed to ensuring that the law is followed,” Carr said, without commenting on the specifics of the Atlanta investigation.
Within days of Carr’s decision last week, two GBI agents were assigned to interview Belcher and WSB-TV producer Terah Boyd. Later in the week, two reporters from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dan Klepal and Stephen Deere, were also interviewed by investigators. WSB-TV and the AJC are both owned by Cox Media Group. Belcher asked Carr what this means for smaller media outlets or citizens who fight for access to open records.
“The only way that the people of Georgia can hold elected officials and those in government accountable is if they have access to the documents,” Carr said. “Those documents aren’t the government’s documents, they’re held in trust for the people. Folks need to know what the law is, both on our constituent side as well as those in government.”
Cox Media Group