WARNER ROBINS — The investigative files destroyed by Warner Robins Mayor John Havrilla and City Attorney Jim Elliott apparently date back to the administration of former Police Chief George Johnson, officials said this week.
Johnson was convicted in 1993 for his role in using a videotape in an attempt to blackmail a Warner Robins city councilman.
After the death of Mayor Donald Walker, Havrilla and Elliott cleaned out the mayor’s office and discovered the files. Their discovery of the files came to light through GBI interviews in connection to the alleged attempt to gain entrance into the mayor’s office by two city employees, Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke said.
A Houston County grand jury found no criminal wrongdoing by the employees: Stan Martin, then city clerk, and Chris Armstrong, an information technology employee. Martin was fired by City Council on Tuesday. Armstrong’s dismissal is pending.
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Burke said the files appeared to date back to the Johnson administration and that Walker apparently kept some and updated them.
Havrilla said he discovered about 15 to 20 files, which consisted of 5-by-8 inch index cards, and deemed them inappropriate based on a cursory look at the content of a few.
Elliott said he recognized the files as a remnant of boxes of similar cards, or files, kept by a Warner Robins police Special Investigations Unit that was disbanded after Johnson’s administration ended. The city attorney said the cards consisted then of mostly unsubstantiated rumors and gossip.
Elliott said he shredded the cards found in the mayor’s office at the direction of Havrilla. Havrilla said it was inappropriate for the cards to have been in the possession of an elected official.
Although once considered public documents, the cards were so old that it’s unlikely that any met any state guidelines for retention and destruction of public records, Elliott said. The city attorney said he did not believe the records had been updated by Walker.
Elliott said he didn’t read the cards but simply destroyed them.
Havrilla said the cards were very old. He declined to name any of the people mentioned on the cards. He said the cards included information such as alleged inappropriate behavior or drug-related convictions.
Burke said his file, or card, was created back when he was a magistrate judge. He obtained a copy of it when the files first surfaced around the time Johnson was convicted. He was surprised that Walker kept any of files. Burke said his file included comments about rulings he made and some newspaper clippings.
“I don’t know if they were illegal,” Burke said of the files. “But it smacks of ... something improper.”
The cards contained information about public officials, city employees and others, Burke said.
Burke applauded Havrilla and Elliott for shredding the files because he said it was not appropriate for the files to exist.
“It was just gossip and rumor and speculation,” Burke said.
The files were not part of any official city documents and were not part of any open or pending criminal investigation, Burke said. As a result, Burke said he doesn’t believe the files were public records. He labeled them as a “personal collection of rumors and innuendoes” that Walker kept in his office.
“It just keeps alive the very thing that is wrong,” Burke said regarding whether the files should have been preserved.
Daryl A. Robinson, counsel to the state Attorney General’s Office, said Tuesday there was no way to make a call whether the files were public because they were destroyed. Generally, if there is a dispute as to whether something is a public record, the matter is decided in a court of law upon review of the record, Robinson said.
State laws govern the retention and destruction of public records. The amount of time a public record must be retained varies widely based on the type of document. More information regarding the rules regulating retention of public documents can be found at http://sos.georgia.gov/Archives/who_are_we/rims/retention_schedules.
To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.