GBI investigating possible Open Records Act violations in Atlanta

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The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has opened an investigation into whether the city of Atlanta under former Mayor Kasim Reed violated the Georgia Open Records Act.

The Open Records Act makes most city documents available to any citizen who asks to see them including the media.

The Attorney General asked the GBI to investigate whether the city intentionally kept records from a TV reporter. It is a misdemeanor to knowingly frustrate access to Open Records.

The investigation request by the Attorney General's office followed a TV report in which a reporter obtained text messages between mayoral spokeswoman Jenna Garland and a city Watershed Department communications employee who was responding to an open records request.

The I-Team obtained copies of the texts between Garland and the Watershed communications director regarding an open records request. In them, Garland instructs the employee "to be as unhelpful as possible" and to "drag this out as long as possible."

Our sources say the GBI may look into other allegations of frustrating the Open Records process involving other reporters as well. A topic, the FOX 5 I-Team has documented in the past.

Like July 2017. Former Mayor Kasim Reed's then chief of staff Candace Byrd took a taxpayer funded business trip. This one to Havana, Cuba. At a total cost of over $1,704.56, including a first class Delta ticket for the 2-hour flight, according to Mayor Reed's staff.

Three months before this flight we had filed an Open Records request for Candace Byrd's city credit card. We wanted to know how much she traveled, where she went, and what it cost. That was in April of 2017.

The city promised a response, but never delivered. We had to get State Attorney General to mediate and they found the city "failed to comply with either the spirit or letter of the Open Records Act."

The city attorney promised the credit card records by September 30, 2017. He didn't turn them over. We didn't get the records until we told Mayor Reed's personal attorney we were prepared to sue.

Sara Henderson is director of good government watchdog, Common Cause. She says she'd never heard of a Mayor or his chief of staff taking so long to answer a legal Open Records request.

“It's horrible not only is it violating the law but it's hurting the citizens and that's what's so bad about this,” says Henderson. “It absolutely matters because it sets precedents for the incoming mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and we certainly don't want to see her administration doing the same things.”

Mayor Bottoms responded with a statement: While "I was not privy to decisions made by the previous Administration regarding the Georgia Open Records Act" and that "my Administration will always follow both the spirit and letter of the Georgia Open Records Act."