ATLANTA — More text messages obtained by Channel 2 Action News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution may link, for the first time, former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed to potential violations of Georgia's open records laws.
The text messages involve access to public records that Channel 2's Aaron Diamant asked for more than a year ago.
Back in April, Channel 2 and the AJC filed a formal complaint with Georgia's attorney general's office, claiming a "culture of political interference" with open records requests by Atlanta City Hall. The GBI is also investigating.
Now, more texts suggest Reed may have set the tone.
“It says to me you have a city administration that doesn’t respect the laws that govern the behavior of the City of Atlanta,” said Georgia State University communications law professor Greg Lisby.
Diamant showed Lisby the text messages we obtained establishing the strongest link yet between Reed and his senior staffers’ attempts to obstruct our open records requests.
“That’s not comforting,” Lisby said.
In March 2017, Diamant emailed Atlanta Watershed Management communications director Lillian Govus to request copies of commissioner Kishia Powell's public travel records and expenses. He cc’d Reed’s communications director Anne Torres and press secretary Jenna Garland.
Govus quickly texted Garland, "Just saw Aaron's request. Do you want that to come out of your office?"
Garland replied, "Showed ORR to mayor. No action needed at this time."
“I mean the best-case scenario for the mayor here is that the subordinate misinterpreted what the mayor said. Worst case scenario is that the mayor is directing foot-dragging,” Lisby said.
In a recent email, Govus, who no longer works for the city, told us she understood, “The directive was not to respond to the open records request.”
She added, “Kishia Powell was abundantly clear that I was to follow the directive of the mayor's office in all matters regarding WSB's open records requests."
Thirteen months later, Watershed has still not turned over the records we asked for.
"On its face, that to me looks like a violation of Georgia's open records law, yes," Lisby said.
In March of this year, the GBI launched a criminal investigation into other text messages we exposed, in which Garland told Govus to subvert our request for city council member's water bills.
"Be as unhelpful as possible … Drag this out as long as possible … And provide information in the most confusing format available,” the texts read.
In her email, Govus said, “As you can see from the messages, I was not empowered to comply with these laws, regardless of how I pushed back. My actions -- or lack thereof -- were representative of my superiors' orders with no regard to the ethical and legal ramifications of noncompliance."
In an email to Channel 2 and the AJC, Powell claimed she didn't know about our request at the time, and put the blame on Govus.
Meantime, a statement from Reed said in part, “Jenna Garland worked tirelessly to respond to open records requests and media inquiries in good faith each and every day … This is nothing more than an attempt to garner further headlines and attack the reputation of a fine public servant.”
Cox Media Group