Atlanta Admits Meetings Violations, Fails to Amend Minutes
Graphic by Adrian Paulette Coleman; screenshot by Matthew Charles; additional images pursuant to Fair Use Doctrine.
(APN) ATLANTA – In a recent court filing, the City of Atlanta has admitted, after months of litigation and months more of reporting by Atlanta Progressive News, that they have knowingly continued to publish official meeting minutes that they were aware failed to meet the minimum requirements of the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
“Plaintiff contends that the Open Meetings Act requires these minutes to identify the mover and seconder for each of these votes. The City agrees,” the City of Atlanta wrote in the filing, dated March 18, 2022.
The filing was authored by private attorneys for the City, Matthew R. Sellers and Robert Ashe of the Bondurant, Elmore, & Mixson law firm.
“The Open Meetings Act requires the minutes to list ‘the identity of the persons making and seconding the motion or other proposal.’” the City of Atlanta said.
The City says, however, that it has not figured out how to amend the minutes because there are so many possibilities to consider.
“The Court should also reject Plaintiff’s claim in the exercise of its discretion because the City intends to take steps to remedy the inadvertent omission in the minutes at issue. The City is considering several options,” the City of Atlanta said.
“In weighing those options, the City must consider (among other things) the most efficient use of limited municipal resources,” the City of Atlanta said.
“Deciding the most appropriate course of action will take time, and the ultimate decision lies with the Atlanta City Council… The City asks the Court’s reasonable forbearance as it decides the appropriate course of action,” the City said.
Since the March 18, 2022 filing, the Atlanta City Council met on March 21, 2022 and failed to amend the minutes, despite the City’s stated knowledge.
The Community Development/Human Services Committee, whose minutes are at issue, met on March 29, 2022 and failed to amend the minutes, despite the City’s stated knowledge.
Also, it is unclear how the efficient use of municipal resources is advanced by the City’s anti-transparency legal campaign, as the City of Atlanta has continued to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting this case and other related open meetings and open records cases with Atlanta Progressive News and with APN’s News Editor, despite their now-admission that they knew they had violated the law on some claims.
As previously reported by APN, the City of Atlanta has spent over 431,000 dollars on the litigation from June 2020 through February 2022.
At issue are five meeting minutes of the CD/HS Committee dating January 24, January 28, February 11, February 25, and March 10, 2020, while Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland (Post 2-at-large) was chair.
The minutes fail to list the movers, seconders, yeas, nays, abstainers, and absences for certain votes.
Jan. 14, 2020 (vote to adopt the agenda, and the vote to adopt the minutes)
Jan. 28, 2020 (vote to adopt the agenda, and the vote to adopt the minutes)
Feb. 11, 2020 (vote to adopt the agenda)
Feb. 25, 2020 (vote to adopt the agenda)
March 10, 2020 (vote to adopt the agenda, and the vote to adopt the minutes.)
APN informed then-Council President Felicia A. Moore and the Atlanta City Council of the five meeting minutes in an email on June 04, 2021.
After the Council failed to amend the minutes, APN wrote an article about it and emailed the article to Moore and Councilmembers on August 16, 2021.
Then-Mayoral candidates Moore; and Andre Dickens, who was then the Post 3-at-large Councilmember, stood by the minutes and refused to address them.
Then-Council President candidate Natalyn Mosby Archibong, then the District 5 Councilmember, also stood by the minutes and refused to address them.
APN filed suit in Fulton County Superior Court on August 25, 2021. After receiving service, the City of Atlanta still failed to amend the minutes.
The City filed a Motion to Dismiss on October 27, 2021.
In their Motion, the City argued that the minutes did not need to list the yeas, nays, absences, and abstainers. The City did not address the movers nor the seconders in their Motion.
Shockingly, on Dec. 17, 2021, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Kelly Lee Ellerbe agreed that the minutes need not list the yeas, nays, absences, and abstainers, despite the 2012 ruling of the Supreme Court of Georgia in Cardinale v. City of Atlanta – the last time the City of Atlanta defended secret votes with taxpayer dollars. And despite the plain language of the statute to the contrary.
However, Judge Ellerbe agreed that the minutes are required to include the movers and seconders. (APN intends to appeal regarding the yeas, nays, abstainers, and absences.)
Still, the City of Atlanta has failed to amend the minutes to add the movers and seconders.
What is the City of Atlanta’s purpose in spending taxpayer dollars to knowingly defend unlawful actions to advance the deprivation of the people’s right to basic information about the open meetings taking place in their name?
In the absence of any other explanation, the answer seems to be the City of Atlanta’s basic desire to send a message to the general public that the majestic, superior City of Atlanta will not allow the mere public to tell them what to do.
For this purpose, apparently, no expense is to be spared from the taxpayers.
APN estimates the City of Atlanta’s open meetings and open records litigation currently accounts for about ten percent of the City’s outside counsel budget, based on a recent presentation by City Attorney Nina R. Hickson to the Public Safety/Legal Administration Committee.
Councilmembers who continue to knowingly stand by unlawful minutes could face an action by APN for civil penalties; or, if Georgia had an Attorney General interested in holding the City of Atlanta accountable, criminal misdemeanor penalties, under the Georgia Open Meetings Act.
Last month, on Feb. 15, 2022, the Court of Appeals of Georgia overturned Judge Ellerbe in two related cases, including by finding that any person, not just the Attorney General, can seek civil penalties under the Georgia Open Records Act.
Former Councilman Antonio Brown (District 3), former outside counsel Michael Brandon Jones, and former Planning Commissioner Tim Keane are currently petitioning the Supreme Court of Georgia to overturn the Feb. 15, 2022 Court of Appeals ruling, also against the public interest and at taxpayer expense.
(END / Copyright Atlanta Progressive News / 2022)