Open Letter to Council: Disclose Your Secret Vote, The Time Has Come
Dear Council Members,
It has been nearly one month since the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled in my favor in the case of Cardinale v. City of Atlanta (2010CV185775 in Fulton County Superior Court; S11G1047 in Supreme Court). The case is currently on remittur back to the trial court, where you have discovery that will soon be due and I am prepared to take depositions.
That is where we are, but I wanted to remind us of where we started and how we got here.
In February 2010, you all took a vote during lunch at a Council Retreat with the intent of depriving the public of the breakdown of the votes in the minutes. I believe the record will show that this meeting was not only in violation of the requirement to record those names in the minutes–as the Supreme Court has recently ruled is required–but also a failure to list a vote at all and even more, a quasi-closed meeting.
I believe Councilwoman Felicia Moore (District 9) was trying to make the best of a difficult political situation in conducting the so-called straw poll, and that she, in fact, was on the right side of the underlying issue, which was related to public comment.
And I believed Moore when she told me that you all [mistakenly] thought that because it wasn’t legislation, the listing of the names was not required under the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
However, here’s the problem: after I pointed out that the Act requires the listing of votes on all “legislation and other proposals” and that this would have been an “other proposal,” the Law Department came back and provided a new theory of legal defense that you all also adopted: that OCGA 50-14-1(e)(2) did not require a listing of the names in a non-roll call vote.
Well, the Supreme Court disagreed, so not only did your original justification fall through, but your after-the-fact justification fell through as well.
So, if your mistake was really just a misunderstanding of the law, you would have looked at the new information and you would have admitted your mistake and reversed course.
Instead, you all decided to employ a new rationale, that the listing of names in non-roll call votes was not required. This suggests to me a knowing and willful attempt to deprive the public of the knowledge of the vote you took by any means necessary.
At this point in time, as I have numerous times and at numerous stages previously, I am asking you to amend the minutes of the Council Retreat to list, at minimum, the eight nays. I don’t see why that should be such a problem, seeing as how the eight nays have already told me privately who they are: Carla Smith (District 1), Kwanza Hall (District 2), Cleta Winslow (District 4), Natalyn Archibong (District 5), Yolanda Adrean (District 8), Felicia Moore (District 9), CT Martin (District 10), and Michael Julian Bond (Post 1-at-large).
Yes, that’s right; think about yourselves for a second. You’re no longer fighting for the right to a secret vote; you’ve already lost the fight. What you’re now fighting for is the right not to do what you now know the law already requires you to do. Is that really what you went to Council to spend the taxpayers’ money on?
As you know, it concerns me greatly as a citizen and taxpayer of the City of Atlanta, that you all have spent probably tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars in defending your perceived right to first, a secret vote, and then, fraudulent, deceptive minutes. If you are also concerned in any way about the taxpayers, I would urge you to enter into a Consent Decree with me in this case. I would ask the Council to amend the minutes of the Council Retreat; and to enact legislation specifying that, at a minimum, the minutes of all future meetings of the Council and its committees shall record the names of those voting against the proposal or abstaining, basically letting the public know that we don’t have to worry about you all doing this again.
I’m also concerned, having reviewed the approved minutes of the January 31, 2012, meeting of the Community Development/Human Resources Committee. Sometimes you specifically write that the vote was unamimous; sometimes you merely write that the motion carried. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled that if you list no names, it has to mean it’s because the vote really was unanimous. I would ask that the legislation you adopt also provide for a consistent means of recording unanimous votes: either by listing no names, or by saying it is unanimous. Currently, it’s hard to know when you list no names whether it was really unanimous or whether you’re just violating the law.
On the day that City Attorney Cathy Hampton was confirmed almost two years ago, I commented on her confirmation at the Committee on Council, where among other things, I urged her to support more settlements of cases out of court. So it is in that spirit, out of my ongoing concern for the taxpayers, that I hope to hear from you all soon regarding resolving this case.
Matthew Charles Cardinale
News Editor, Atlanta Progressive News