ALBANY, Ga. -- Representatives of most of the city of Albany's various departments learned their expanded responsibilities under Georgia's Open Records and Open Meetings acts Wednesday as more than 80 city employees, committee appointees and elected officials received an overview of the acts from City Attorney Nathan Davis.
Championed by City Clerk Sonja Tolbert and called by Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, the meeting brought together representatives -- many of them managers -- of Albany's Public Works, fire, Code Enforcement, Water, Gas & Light, parks and recreation, IT, aviation, police, planning, coroner, human resources, economic development and engineering departments, as well as a number of elected and appointed officials.
"The revisions to Georgia's Open Records and Open Meetings laws have changed how we do business tremendously," Hubbard told the gathering. "When it was explained to me that the person in charge of a meeting subject to these laws could be fined or put in jail, it got my attention.
"I don't know about any of you, but I can't afford the fines and I don't want to go to jail."
Davis explained that the amended Open Records and Meetings laws approved by the Legislature require more extensive accounting of business conducted by employees or officials whose salaries are paid directly by taxpayers.
"Georgia now probably has the most expansive Open Records laws in the United States," the city attorney said. "And the laws say we must make as much data and information accessible as possible.
"Everyone who is an elected official or was appointed by an elected official is covered under these laws. Hopefully we'll cover things here today so that when something comes up tomorrow or months from now it will click and you'll call our office to ask questions."
Davis said some of the most notable changes in the law include costs for providing copies of legal documents, a clarification of response time to an Open Records request, a broadened list of exceptions to the laws, rules that govern executive sessions and penalties for non-compliance.
"Depending on the severity of the infraction, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony," Davis said. "Fines include $1,000 for first violations and $2,500 for subsequent violations within a 12-month period. State law also says the attorney general's office could impose a felony violation where records are destroyed for the purpose of preventing their disclosure."
Hubbard said after the meeting she was pleased with the turnout.
"We couldn't mandate that anyone be here, but we did ask that as many departments as could send representatives," she said. "I'm really pleased to see this many people here. I think it shows that our people are serious about the work they do for the city."
Davis, too, said he was surprised by the number of participants.
"I consider this a 100 percent success," he said. "This is important, and I could tell by the attendance and the questions asked that city personnel are very interested in complying with these laws."