Bill Simon wrote a four part series on corruption Georgia that deserves another look. Below are a few short excerpts with links to his full articles. Bill is a Republican unlike me which proves political ideology has nothing to do with justice. If there is one issue that can and should unite all people in Georgia regardless of your political leanings, it is CORRUPTION! I encourage all citizens and politicians regardless of how you vote to come together and help stamp out corruption in Georgia or wherever you may live.This is one issue that should unite all of us because it is like a vampire squid sucking the life out of our economy and destroying peoples lives.
The first and most important step is exposure. Malfeasance and slime thrive in the dark which is why all ethics violations need to be uncovered and exposed to the sunshine of public scrutiny. The next step is investigations and prosecutions which can be trickier when the ones that do the investigations are the exact ones that need to be investigated.
I am republishing these excerpts in the hope that more people will get a chance to read them and understand why corruption is so deeply entrenched in Georgia. I also wanted to add them to my own CIG Project Library.
by Bill Simon
Have you ever pondered why it is that in this state, it is only the Executive Branch of Georgia’s three-legged stool of governance (i.e., Executive, Legislative, Judiciary) that is required to respond to Open Records Requests?
Think about that for a moment. The Legislative Branch operates strictly from taxpayer dollars. The Judicial Branch operates strictly from taxpayer dollars. And, the Executive Branch operates strictly from taxpayer dollars. Why is only one branch of Georgia state government required to be subjected to “sunshine laws?”
Do only “executive branch” people have the propensity to misuse and abuse their positions with taxpayer dollars? No, that would be an absurd position for anyone to take, as there are crooked-minded people in every branch of government at all levels of any government.
A couple of years ago, The Center of Public Integrity created a survey and sent it out to people in every state and asked them to judge the state’s disclosure, transparency, and ethics laws of varying natures.
In Georgia, the survey was answered by Jim Walls, a longtime journalist, formerly with the AJC, who now operates the AtlantaUnfiltered.com website.
When the results for Georgia came back as being dead last in their grade of “F” for being the “highest for ‘corruption risk‘, there was a tad bit of overreaction from some folks in the Legislative Branch. Someone I know very well went into immediate attack mode on Jim Walls, complete with trying to get as many people to throw rocks and pies at Walls for his process of filling-out a survey form that produced an “F” grade.
Whether it is legally defined as the ‘Freedom of Information Act’ (“FOIA”), or a “Sunshine Act” or the ‘Open Records Act,’ the concept behind all of these laws is to make the people who work in government become more accountable to the taxpayers who pay their salaries and expenses.
The primary purpose of these types of laws is to provide disclosure to the public of government activities, and not, as some like to interpret it (in this state and others, including the federal government), to allow governments to withhold things from the public’s eye.
In 1972, Georgia’s legislature passed the first “Sunshine Act.” If you compared the 1972 Act to what is currently Georgia’s “Open Records Act” law, you might notice a couple of similarities of significance: 1) There is no specific exemption specified to exclude the Legislative Branch of Georgia from either of these acts, and 2) There is also no specific exemption specified to exclude the Judicial Branch of Georgia from having to follow these laws.
And yet, in EVERY other part of Georgia law, in order for anyone to be exempt from having to follow the law, there must be a specific, codified exemption written into the law. No written exemption written? Then you have to follow that law to the letter.
And, yet, today, neither the judicial branch of Georgia, nor the legislative branch of Georgia, has to “open their books” to the sunshine of government transparency. Why is that? Well…let me take you on a little case study journey to discover why…that involves two Georgia cases.
Case #1: Coggin v. Davey – Supreme Court of Georgia, Decided Jan. 6, 1975
Coggin v. Davey (“Coggin”) was a lawsuit filed in 1974 by three radio reporters and Common Cause for access to meetings of General Assembly committees.
by Bill Simon
Case #2: Fathers Are Parents Too v. Hunstein – Court of Appeals of Georgia, Decided Feb. 7, 1992
The gist of the case is that Fathers Are Parents Too (“Fathers”) filed a request under the Open Meetings Act to have the meetings of the Georgia Commission on Gender Bias in the Judicial System, chaired by Judge Carol Hunstein, open to the public.
The trial court disagreed and found in favor of the Commission, citing Coggin as their basis. The second paragraph of the link above to the Court of Appeals case describes this thinking process:
In its first two enumerations of error, appellant claims the trial court erred in ruling that the Act
does not apply to the Commission or to the judicial branch. In Coggin v. Davey, 233 Ga. 407, 410-411,
211 S.E.2d 708 (1975), the Supreme Court held that the former Act (as enacted by Ga.L.1972, p. 575),
although applicable to the executive branch of government, was not applicable to the legislative [202
Ga.App. 717] branch or its committees. Though not part of its holding, Coggin also rejected the argument that the Act applied to the judicial branch [emphasis added]. Id. at 410-411, 211 S.E.2d 708. The Court reasoned that the Act was not intended to apply to the legislative branch since the Legislature had historically exercised the authority to adopt its own internal operating procedures, and had subsequently adopted the procedures at issue inconsistent with the Act. Id. at 411, 211 S.E.2d 708.
On Page 2 of the Appeals Court decision, I have highlighted in yellow the following:
“In recognition of the separate authorities and duties vested in the three co-equal branches of government, the Constitution provides that the legislative, judicial and executive powers shall forever remain separate and distinct. Ga. Const.1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. III. “As a principle flowing from the separation of powers doctrine, [the inherent judicial power] … arms the judicial branch with authority to prevent another branch from invading its province.”
For the use of my argument for this story, this is what Ga. Const. 1983, Art. I, Sec. II, Par. III states:
“Separation of legislative, judicial, and executive powers. The legislative, judicial, and executive powers shall forever remain separate and distinct; and no person discharging the duties of one shall at the same time exercise the functions of either of the others except as herein provided.”
So, in looking at other states on whether or not a) they have “sunshine laws”, and b) how they handle them, I came upon a case in West Virginia decided in 2009 by their Supreme Court. Kind of a fascinating case, but I didn’t find the details of the case (as in the decisions being rendered) to be what held my interest so much.
It was the fact that the judges that sat on the Supreme Court in West Virginia in 2009 appear to be…approximately…not exact, mind you, but just approximately 50 times more intelligent than the judges who sat on the Supreme Court bench of 1975 in Georgia, or the ones who sat on the Court of Appeals in Georgia in 1992.
In West Virginia, their “sunshine law” is referred to as FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). From this case, I conclude that the WV legislature did not leave anything to chance when it wrote its sunshine laws regarding the public’s right to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
From the bottom of Page 4 of this case (and going over to Page 5), it states the following with regards to what WV wanted in terms of sunshine laws (and, I have bolded the law part w/o all the cites getting in the way):
“W. Va.Code § 29B-1-3 (1992) (Repl. Vol. 2007) provides that “[E]very person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by [§ 29B-1-4] of Associated Press v. Canterbury, 688 S.E.2d 317, 224 W.Va. 708 (W.Va., 2009) [688 S.E.2d 324] this article.”
FOIA defines a “public body” as every state officer, agency, department, including the executive, legislative and judicial departments, division, bureau, board and commission; every county and city governing body, school district, special district, municipal corporation, and any board, department, commission, council or agency thereof; and any other body which is created by state or local authority or which is primarily funded by the state or local authority.“
Notice that first sentence that is excerpted from the WV law? “Every person has a right to inspect or copy any public record of a public body in this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by this article.”
THAT is how law is supposed to work. Because our current Georgia Open Records Act has in it the types of records that are “expressly” exempted from being covered under Open Records. You know what is not expressly exempted from Georgia’s Open Records Act? There is no exemption expressly stipulated for exempting the Judicial Branch, nor the Legislative Branch of state government. What we got in this state is the judicial branch of government “making law” rather than interpreting intent of law.
To further illustrate this (and to demonstrate why, exactly, that WV’s Supreme Court justices are at least 50 times more intelligent than Georgia’s Supreme Court justices), I turn your attention to Page 3 of this WV case, at the top where the word “DISCUSSION” is highlighted. If you go down to the second paragraph, which has a couple of sections highlighted, the justices state the following:
“This Court has long held that “`[w]here the language of a statute is clear and without ambiguity the plain meaning is to be accepted without resorting to the rules of interpretation.’”
Additionally, as a general matter, “the words of a statute are to be given their ordinary and familiar significance and meaning”…’It is not for this Court to arbitrarily to read into [a statute] that which it does not say.’”
OH-MY-GOSH!! Wow. I just get goosebumps when I read that last sentence. “It is not for this Court arbitrarily to read into [a statute] that which it does not say.”
“…that which it does not say.” Did the Georgia Sunshine Act of 1972 expressly say ANYTHING about exempting the Legislature? NO, it did not.