By Kevin Hogencamp
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has put City Commissioner Tommie Postell’s concerns – as misconceived as they were – to rest.
There won’t be a criminal investigation into who “leaked” the truth about City Manager Alfred Lott being forced by the City Commission to resign – rather than Lott leaving voluntarily, as Lott claims.
Indeed, there wouldn’t even be an investigation if – as Postell incorrectly concluded – a City Commission member revealed what was discussed in a City Commission executive session.
The reason: Disclosing what happens at city hall isn’t illegal, said Mike Lewis, the GBI’s special agent in charge in Albany.
“We only investigate violations of criminal statutes and I don’t see that as being a criminal violation,” Lewis told The Albany Journal.
What if the City Commission asked the GBI to get to the bottom of who provides information about what occurs in meetings, including executive sessions?
“If we were asked, I would decline,” Lewis said.
The Journal – citing multiple confidential sources — reported accurately that City Commission members would meet in executive session on July 20 to force Lott to resign in the wake of former human resources director leveling federal discrimination charges against Lott. Lott announced his resignation, effective on July 31, 2011, the day following the executive session and none of the City Commission members have publicly refuted Lott’s contention that he is leaving on his own volition.
Postell, though, mistakenly concluded that although the Journal’s report on Lott being forced to resign was published before the executive session, the Journal acquired its information about Lott’s ouster during or after the executive session. Indeed, Postell said thinks that some commissioners may have sent text messages to the Journal during the executive session.
“Some of that information got out and it had to have come from someone at the table,” Postell said. “I think we need to investigate how that leak occurred and give it to the D.A. and if he won’t do anything with it, give it to the GBI.”
City Commissioner Roger Marietta responded to Postell’s concerns by asking whether police could “sweep” the commission room for tape recorders before each executive session.
Johnny Edwards, the Georgia Sunshine chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, said that not only are elected and appointed board members allowed to publicly discuss executive session matters, they can record the meetings.
“There’s no law saying a closed meeting participant can’t record the proceedings or take notes,” said Edwards, a reporter with The Augusta Chronicle. “Of course, in the case of a recorder, the chair of the meeting could possibly ask them to turn it off or ask them to leave if they refuse, and the participant could refuse to do so, leading to a test case down the road.
“But as things stand, a participant is certainly free to take notes, discuss what was said afterward, and as far as I’m concerned, carry a recorder.”
Before the Journal inquired with the GBI, City Attorney Nathan Davis, District Attorney Greg Edwards and former District Attorney Ken Hodges were asked whether laws exist prohibiting City Commission members from discussing executive session proceedings. Davis did not acknowledge the Journal’s inquiry; a staffer for Hodges, who is the Democratic candidate for Georgia attorney general, said he would get Hodges to respond to the Journal, but did not; and Edwards refused to weigh in, except to refer questions to the attorney general.