On Sept. 24, I filed my first-ever open-records request with the city of Augusta. The request was straightforward: I asked to see a recently completed Augusta Public Transportation study, and to see the price tag for that study. To make sure I properly made the request, I consulted the "Citizen's Guide to Open Government" that was handed out at the recent Georgia Sunshine Laws seminar, and made my request via e-mail.
At the very end of the three business days maximum response time I received an e-mail from the city of Augusta's legal department notifying me that they were rejecting my open-records request. Their explanation? The legal department claimed that the documents that I requested "were not in possession" of the city.
Surprised by this response, I called the city's legal department to inquire further into this unexpected rejection. I asked the city attorney if I am to understand that the city paid for a study, but doesn't know what it paid, and doesn't have a copy of it.
His reply was that I asked for the "final copy" of the study, but the study wasn't technically "final" so, instead of showing me what they had, he rejected the request. Regarding the cost of the study, I had asked for the "total cost," but since the study wasn't technically "final," there was no "total cost" and that is why my open-records request was flatly rejected.
Two questions: Why did it take three days to find out that the requested study and price tag "didn't exist?" And, more importantly, is such a hide-the-ball shell game the city's idea of the open government that is guaranteed to us by state law, especially in light of the recent Goshen shenanigans?
Maybe the next Georgia Sunshine Laws Seminar should include a bonus lesson on semantics.