AG: City narrowly avoided violating open meeting law
by The Associated Press
September 24, 2012 01:43 AM | 639 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
SAVANNAH — The Georgia attorney general’s office has warned the Savannah city manager that the city “narrowly avoided” violating the state’s open meetings law.

The Savannah Morning News reports that senior assistant attorney general Stefan Ritter wrote that there was an attempt to hold a City Council meeting Sept. 2 in violation of the law since the meeting was called without notice and without making it open to the general public. Ritter said the attorney general’s office was willing to accept the city’s claim that even though a quorum of five council members showed up, they were not all in the room at the same time.

Ritter warned that the city could have been subject to fines if all five were present at the same time.

City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney said it was not really a meeting, but an opportunity for council members to view a videotape of a fight at Ellis Square.

She issued a statement saying, “I am thankful for the attention of the attorney general, and join City Council in renewing our goal to become the most open and transparent government in Georgia.”

In 2011, Attorney General Sam Olens found that Savannah city officials had violated the open meetings law three times while conducting city business. Ritter cited those past concerns in his letter, but also credited Mayor Edna Jackson with taking the correct approach by disclosing the Sept. 2 gathering to the attorney general’s office.

Jackson contacted Ritter the day after The Savannah Morning News wrote about the council gathering. She explained that city officials felt they had a problem with rapidly spreading misinformation about a fight Aug. 25 between a white male and three black males in Ellis Square. The mayor agreed council members should view the video, but because she was out of town, the city manager sent an email to the members.

Ritter addressed his letter to the city manager because, based on the email, she called the meeting.

After the Sept. 2 gathering came to public attention, council members Carol Bell and Tony Thomas said she arrived as he was leaving, which meant five weren’t in the room at the same time.

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