Accessing documents related to the governor’s controversial salvage yard deal could put you back nearly $4 million

‘I think they’re creating a hurdle that’s too high for anything to cost’

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Gov. Nathan Deal’s personal finances have drastically improved over the past four years. He’s managed to reduce his debt by $1.8 million and increase his net worth by $1 million. But the fortunate turn of events has led some groups to question how he rebuilt his finances - and whether he used his elected position for personal gain.

Last summer, Deal and his business associate sold their Gainesville salvage company for an estimated $4 million, plus $120,000 annually to lease the land, to Copart. In a separate legal dispute, the Texas-based car auction company that bought the governor’s business has fought with the state over an estimated $74 million in reported back taxes. After Deal sold his company, receiving $2 million for the transaction, that tax lien has remained unpaid.

Better Georgia, a progressive group that has remained vocal about the sale, has attempted to investigate the matter through a series of Open Records Requests. It’s concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the sale and wants to know more about the deal. But the political group’s efforts have been hindered by what its members say are lengthy delays to receive the related documents and hefty price tags imposed by state officials to do so.

Bryan Long, Better Georgia’s executive director, tells CL that the Georgia Department of Revenue failed to respond to the group’s documents request for more than five months. When the department finally responded to the organization 163 days later, an official told Long it would cost around $3.8 million to retrieve the documents related to Deal’s business transactions.

“It’s a ridiculous amount,” Long says. He added: “I think they’re creating a hurdle that’s too high for anything to cost.”

In an email that CL obtained, Nick Genesi, the DOR’s director of communications, wrote that IBM, which handles the state’s email servers, does not keep archived messages or documents for more than one year, and in some cases only six months. To retrieve emails on the matter, backup tapes would need to be mounted, restored to a new temporary server, and then state employees would have to look through the recovered documents.

Genesi also wrote that state officials would need approximately eight months to fulfill the request. Because of that, Long has serious concerns about the timing of both the initial delayed response and the lengthy delivery time.

“If we had the $4 million, it wouldn’t be available until after the election,” Long says. “They can’t retrieve them in-house. They have to hire IBM to do this. There’s something in these records they don’t want us to find out.”

Better Georgia isn’t the only organization that would be required to pay a large sum of money for access to the public records. Last week, the AJC revealed that the agency asked them to pay “astronomic prices” for similar documents. We’ve also heard that a TV station’s request “costs in the hundreds of thousands.”

We’ve reached out to the DOR for more details and to Deal’s office to see if he supports the release of those documents. But the ongoing questions being raised into Deal’s private affairs, as well as separate controversies surround his ties to the state ethics commission, aren’t likely to go away anytime soon no matter the price tag.