Mayor Reed's former press secretary criminally charged with open records violations

ATLANTA — Channel 2 Action News has learned the press secretary for former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been served two criminal citations.

It is the first ever criminal charge under the Georgia's Open Records Act.

Last year, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation opened a criminal investigation involving potential violations of Georgia's open records law by the Reed administration, including actions by press secretary Jenna Garland.

Channel 2's Richard Belcher has been following this case for more than a year.

It began in 2017 when Channel 2 Action News asked for public records involving unpaid water bills by government officials, but didn't receive the records for weeks.

Another city official, Lillian Govus, later provided a Channel 2 Action News producer with text messages showing that Garland ordered Govus to delay the release of the records.

The texts were provided to Channel 2 by Lillian Govus, who was the top communications officer for Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management. They document exchanges between Govus and former Press Secretary Jenna Garland.

In those text messages, Garland texted Govus, “I’d be as unhelpful as possible. Drag this out as long as possible. And provide information in the most confusing format available.”

[READ: 'Drag this out’: Texts reveal Reed administration’s effort to keep public records from WSB]

The Georgia Open Records Act says public agencies shall notify persons requesting records within three days when the records will be available and provide the records in a reasonable time frame.

In the charging documents against Garland, both citations clearly reference Channel 2 Action News' role in seeking public records, which authorities contend Garland illegally defied. Both citations are misdemeanors.

"Ignoring the state's Sunshine Laws will come with a heavy price," said Richard T. Griffiths, the president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

He says these charges send a clear message.

"Just because you're a public official, doesn't mean to say that you can ignore the public's right to know what's in the documents," Griffiths said.

Professor Greg Lisby of Georgia State University says Reed regularly showed a blatant disregard for the public's interest and he believes Garland took her cues from office culture.

"I cannot imagine that she did this on her own without somebody somewhere at least leaning in a certain direction that lead her to the conclusion that she could do this and get away with it," Lisby said.

Late Monday, Belcher received the following statement from Garland's attorney.

"We are surprised and disappointed by Attorney General Chris Carr’s decision today given the facts of this case and my client’s full cooperation with the investigation. While my client may have spoken out of frustration, she acted in good faith at all times and did not violate any statutes. We plan to look at all options moving forward.”

A spokesperson for the city said, "The Bottoms administration is committed to restoring public trust between Atlanta residents and the government."

Watch Belcher's initial report on the investigation below:

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