Councilman Hall Discloses Secret Vote, 12 Still Unknown

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(APN) ATLANTA — City Councilman Kwanza Hall (District 2) reported how he voted during the secret vote held at the Council Retreat in February 2010, in an email to Atlanta Progressive News.

As previously reported by APN, Council Members voted on whether to draft rules limiting public comment in all Council Committees, but decided not to do so; however, neither the vote breakdown nor those voting against the proposal were listed as required under the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

“Thanks for your e-mail. Kwanza reports that he voted, with Felicia and Michael, not to change the current procedure of leaving things to the discretion of each committee,” Hall’s Chief of Staff, Jay Tribby, wrote.

This brings to a total of three the number of Council Members who have disclosed how they voted. Council Member Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large) told APN in a phone interview that he voted to keep the current rules in place. Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9) stated during a Committee on Council meeting that she did the same.

Twelve members have not stated publicly yet how they voted. APN sent an email on Friday, April 30, 2010, requesting information from each Member individually regarding how they voted.

Previously, Moore, the Chairperson of the Committee on Council, told APN that she and Clerk Rhonda Dauphin Johnson refused to ask the Members how they voted, in order to revise the minutes to bring them into compliance with the Georgia OMA.

Moore received a legal opinion from Acting City Attorney Peter Andrews stating that the City had not broken the law because it was not a roll-call vote.

However, the Georgia OMA 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.”

“The ‘goal’ of asking the law department’s opinion was to get a legal opinion. One was received and you [the present writer] got a copy of it. I’m sorry you were disappointed,” Moore wrote in an email to APN.

“Neither I nor the Clerk will be asking members how they voted,” Moore wrote.

“Perhaps your lawsuit will help you reach your ‘goal.’ I have no need to further discuss this issue with you,” Moore wrote.

APN has already drafted a lawsuit seeking Declaratory and Injunctive Relief from Fulton County Superior Court and is preparing to file within about a week. APN is consulting with various attorneys and community members regarding the case.

The Georgia OMA specifies that individuals who participated in a closed meeting–broadly defined–can be subject to a misdemeanor charge under the law and a fine up to five hundred dollars.

“OCGA § 50-14-6. Violation of chapter; penalty Any person knowingly and willfully conducting or participating in a meeting in violation of this chapter shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $500.00,” the law states.

According to a paralegal in Attorney General Thurbert Baker’s Office, it is up to the judge to decide whether or not a misdemeanor occurred; the Solicitor would not get involved in an open meetings case.

APN is preparing to sue the City of Atlanta as a whole, as well as any and all individuals who participated in the secret vote, including all Council Members [with the exception of Bond and Hall].

APN has provided all Council Members until Wednesday, May 05, 2010, to disclose how they voted, in order to be excused from the lawsuit as a Defendant [the offer was not made to Moore because she was involved in the decisions to not record the votes nor amend the minutes].

Until now, APN had merely requested the omitted vote information from Council President Ceasar Mitchell, as well as Moore and Johnson; however, it is not clear whether all Council Members agree with their actions or failures to take action.

If the remaining individual Members do not provide information about how they voted, it will be assumed that they want their votes to be a secret and that they were in full agreement with the secretive character of the vote that was held.

(END/2010)

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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