City of Atlanta, APN Editor Settle Open Meetings Lawsuits (UPDATE 1)
(APN) ATLANTA — The City of Atlanta and the News Editor of Atlanta Progressive News have reached a settlement in two lawsuits, bringing an end to three years of open government litigation.
The first lawsuit, filed in 2010, sought for the Atlanta City Council to disclose their secret vote regarding limiting public comment taken at the February 2010 Council Retreat. After APN’s Editor won an appeal in the Supreme Court of Georgia in February 2012, the City Council amended the minutes in March 2012 to disclose the names of all fifteen members of the Council voting for and against the proposal.
The second lawsuit, filed first in 2011, and then refiled in 2012, sought for the Atlanta City Council to open up the Committee Briefings of the seven Council Committees to the public. Last month, in January 2013, all seven Briefings were opened to the public and moved to Committee Room 1, which is immediately accessible to the public.
With the main two issues behind the two lawsuits having already been resolved, the City of Atlanta has agreed to pay APN’s Editor one thousand dollars to cover litigation expenses incurred in the two civil actions.
Because the amount is not above five hundred dollars per civil action, approval of the settlement by the Council is not required.
In addition, City of Atlanta has agreed, through its Law Department, to provide annual training on compliance with the Georgia Open Meetings Act and Georgia Open Records Act that will be made available to all Council Members, Council staff, and key administration officials.
The trainings for Council Members and Council staff will be open to the public and the training materials will be available to the public.
While the mediation took place yesterday, February 07, 2013, the agreement went into effect at 5pm today, February 08.
Once APN’s Editor receives the reimbursement for legal expenses from the City, the necessary paperwork will be filed for the two cases to be dismissed with prejudice. The term “dismissed with prejudice” simply means that the actions cannot be re-filed.
However, if any Council Committee chair decides in the future to close their Committee Briefings, that would open up the City to the possibility of new litigation.
To help avoid such a possibility, APN’s Editor plans in the near future to work with community leaders and Council Members to lobby for the passage of legislation to ensure that any and all Committee Briefings held in the future will be open to the public.
As part of the agreement, APN’s Editor also agreed not to bring an action against the City of Atlanta related to the closed-door Transportation Committee Briefing with a quorum that was held in October 2012.
A copy of the mediation agreement will be included as a public record as part of both cases.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the trainings will be open to the public; however, only the trainings for Council Members and Council staff will be open; trainings for executive branch staff will not be open to the public.