Credit Jimmy Carter For Georgia's Open Records Law

Feb 12, 2019

The Georgia attorney general filed criminal citations this week against a former city of Atlanta employee for allegedly violating Georgia’s Open Records Act.  

Jenna Garland was press secretary under former Mayor Kasim Reed, who served from 2010 to 2018. She's accused of directing another city official to delay the release of documents requested by WSB-TV in 2017.

Attorney General Chris Carr says an investigation found that on two occasions in March 2017, Garland instructed the city official in the Department of Watershed Management to stymie the TV station's requests.

In one instance,  she allegedly advised the watershed spokesperson to provide the information "in the most confusing format available."

The Georgia Open Records Act says it is a misdemeanor to frustrate access to records by making them hard to obtain or review.

The attorney general's office says these charges are the first of their kind to be issued in the law's 46-year history.

It was then-Gov. Jimmy Carter who first signed it into law.

In the 1970s, political scandals like "The Pentagon Papers" and Watergate dominated the news cycle, and they fundamentally changed Americans’ relationship with the government. 

As a result, state legislatures started passing so-called “sunshine laws,” so people could access government documents and information on public meetings.

In Georgia, Carter signed the state’s first sunshine laws in 1972.

Carter, himself, was the victim of poor government transparency only a decade earlier.

According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Carter was elected to the state Senate in 1962 after he proved his opponent had stuffed ballot boxes.  One Carter historian says this event was formative to Carter as a politician. 

He even used his record of supporting open government when he ran for president. 

In this 1976 television ad, Carter positions himself as the candidate who would renew trust in government after Watergate.

“We need a sunshine law in Washington to open up the deliberations of executive and legislative branches of government to the public, so we can understand what decisions are made about our own lives."

The federal government passed a sunshine law that same year.    

The Georgia Open Records and Open Meetings Act have undergone several revisions since it was first passed in 1972. The laws were most recently updated in 2012.