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Georgia Open Meetings Act

Who is subject to the Georgia Open Meetings Act (GOMA)?
The Board of Commissioners (BOC) and committees created by the BOC that include members of the BOC. Also, other entities created by law such as Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Board of Tax Assessors, Airport Authority, and Water and Sewerage Authority. All County Boards and Authorities are subject to the GOMA, but GOMA does not apply to the Courts.

What is a meeting under the GOMA?
The gathering of a quorum of the body (e.g., three of five Commissioners) to discuss or take action on County business. This gathering could be a regular meeting, specially called meeting, workshop, retreat, or meeting at a local restaurant to discuss County business. There is an exception for gathering to inspect County facilities (groundbreakings, tours, openings, etc.).

What notice is required?
For regular meetings, 24 hours notice posted at the regular meeting place. For specially called meetings, 24 hours posted notice and notice to the legal organ, except in emergencies.

Must there be a meeting agenda for each meeting?
Yes, it must be available on request and posted at the meeting site some time in the two weeks prior to the meeting.

What meetings can be closed?
BOC meetings can be closed for basically three reasons: 1) to consult with legal counsel on pending or potential claims and litigation; 2) to discuss the acquisition of real estate; and 3) to discuss hiring and firing a public officer or employee.

What is the affidavit requirement?
The presiding officer (normally the Chairman) must sign a notarized affidavit under oath that the subject matter of the closed meeting was devoted to matters within the specific exceptions authorized by law and identify the specific exception(s).

What is the penalty for violating the GOMA?
It is a misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine for any person to participate in a meeting that violates the GOMA. If the executive session affidavit contains false information, the presiding officer may be convicted of a felony punishable by one to five years and/or $1,000 fine. Also, violation of the GOMA may be grounds for recall.

Georgia Open Records Act

Who is subject to the Georgia Open Records Act (GORA)?
Basically, the same agencies and persons subject to the GOMA along with staff.

What is a public record subject to be disclosed under the GORA?
All documents and computer generated information prepared, maintained, or received in the course of operating a public office.

Are documents kept in an official's or employee's home subject to be disclosed?
Yes, if they are public records.

What must be done if a GORA request is made?
The records custodian must allow inspection and copying of the public records within three business days of the request, unless an exemption applies or the records are not readily available. A written response should be sent to the requestor within the same three-day period.

Does the GORA request have to be in writing?
No, but it is a good idea to have it in writing so there will be no misunderstanding as to what documents are being requested.

Can the County charge for costs?
Yes, the GORA authorizes the County to charge for certain administrative costs. The copying fee is generally $0.25 per page.

What are some of the exemptions?
Documents that include information that would be an invasion of privacy: employees' social security numbers, home addresses, and home telephone numbers; medical or insurance information in personnel records; personal information about law enforcement personnel, prosecutors, or judges; law enforcement investigations; acquisition of real property; attorney-client privilege; confidential tax matters; computer programs; trade secrets; etc.

What if the County doesn't have the information in the form requested?
The law expressly states that the County does not have to prepare reports, summaries, or compilations not in existence at the time of the request.

Must County mobile phone bills be disclosed?
Yes, unless an exemption applies to the information on the document. The same is true for e-mail, telephone messages, and handwritten notes.

What are the civil penalties for violation of the GORA?
A civil lawsuit may be brought against the public official or employee and the County to force the documents to be turned over. If the requestor succeeds, he can recover his attorney fees if the documents were withheld without substantial justification.

What is the criminal penalty for violation of the GORA?
Willful and knowing failure to provide the documents within three days is a non-arrestable misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $100.