A.G. clears Albany on city manager search inquiry

Photo by J.D. Sumner

Photo by J.D. Sumner

ALBANY, Ga. -- The Georgia Attorney General's Office has cleared the city of Albany's city manager search process after a complaint was filed by The Albany Herald requesting a review last month.

In a letter to both City Attorney Nathan Davis and The Herald Monday, Assistant Georgia Attorney General Stefan Ritter said that the city did not violate Georgia's Open Meetings Law when the commission told its corporate headhunter to narrow the list of candidates behind closed doors.

"This office remains neutral in mediating and does not assess the integrity of the information provided to us by either party. Thus, after reviewing the city's April 20, 2011 letter and considering Mr. Davis's assurances that the city acted properly, we are concluding our involvement in this matter, and I am closing the file," Ritter wrote.

The Herald sought help from the attorney general's office -- which mediates disputes between the press and local governments over Georgia's meetings and records laws -- to determine if the city violated the Open Meetings Law during the city's search for a city manager to replace former City Manager Alfred Lott, who is now working with the federal Department of Education.

The state's open meetings law prevents public agencies from taking action or votes in closed or executive sessions, which is what The Herald contends the city did when it gave Colin Baenziger of Baenziger & Associates a directive to narrow the list of candidates for the position to three.

The AG's office disagreed, however.

"We note and find it significant that the Open Meetings Act expressly shields 'meetings when discussing or deliberating upon the appointment, employment ... of a public officer or employee," Ritter wrote. "Discussion in the executive session was limited to which individuals possessed the requisite qualifications for the City Manager position."

Baenziger narrowed the list down to three finalists, which later were interviewed by the commission. Ultimately, the commission named its interim city manager, James Taylor, to take on the responsibilities of city manager permanently.