Ga. Supreme Court: City violated Open Meetings Act
- Joeff Davis
- Atlanta Progressive News Editor Matthew Cardinale during a press conference this morning on the steps of City Hall. "Open government is not a Republican issue or a Democrat issue," he said, "it is a citizens issue."
The Georgia Supreme Court today decided 4-3 that the City of Atlanta violated the state's Open Meetings Act when it refused to tell the editor of a local news site how members of the Atlanta City Council voted to change the rules regarding public comment at meetings. Matthew Cardinale, the editor, publisher, fact-checker, typesetter, and bookkeeper of Atlanta Progressive News, sued the city and represented himself in the case.
The case stems from a vote taken in 2010 during the Atlanta City Council’s annual retreat, which was advertised as a “public meeting” and held at the Georgia Aquarium. On the second day of the retreat, the council voted on whether to amend its rules regarding public comment at its committee meetings. By a show of hands, the Council voted 8-to-7 to maintain the existing rules. The minutes of the meeting do not reflect how the members voted but state: “After an extensive discussion, it was determined that the membership was not in support of amending the existing law.”
After obtaining a copy of the minutes, Matthew Cardinale, editor of Atlanta Progressive News, asked the City for the vote tally to see how individual members voted. When he was unable to get the vote’s breakdown, Cardinale filed a “pro se” complaint (he’s representing himself) in Fulton County Superior Court, claiming that under the Georgia Open Meetings Act, he had a right to the information. At issue in this case is the wording in the Act, which states: “In the case of a roll-call vote, the name of each person voting for or against a proposal
shall be recorded, and in all other cases, it shall be presumed that the action taken was approved by each person in attendance unless the minutes reflect the name of the persons voting against the proposal or abstaining.”
In his lawsuit, Cardinale sought not only a declaration that the City acted illegally by not disclosing the information, but also that the individual defendants be charged with a misdemeanor crime and charged a $500 fine. The City filed a motion asking the court to dismiss Cardinale’s complaint, arguing that the Act did not require a detailed record of the vote and that Cardinale had failed to state a claim against the City that would entitle him to some relief. The trial court granted the City’s motion to dismiss Cardinale’s lawsuit, and he then appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals. That court upheld the lower court’s ruling, finding that nothing in the Act “demands detailed information on non-roll-call votes….”