State proposes fine, training for Milledgeville officials over alleged open meetings violations

The state attorney general’s office is proposing that the city of Milledgeville pay a $2,500 fine and revise its policies after the City Council’s alleged failure to follow Georgia’s open meetings law.

In a document sent to the city, the state accuses the council of holding an illegal meeting featuring a quorum of council members on March 3, 2014, after the regularly scheduled meeting had been adjourned.

According to the memorandum of understanding issued by the attorney general’s office, the council members “continued to discuss city business, and the public and press were not privy to this discussion.”

The document is a draft and has been sent to the council for its consideration, said Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. The council could vote to approve or reject the memorandum or ask the city attorney to propose changes to the document.

Kane said she didn’t know when the council would meet next, nor was there a fixed timetable by which the city was supposed to respond.

Citing the ongoing nature of the issue, Kane declined to comment on what the consequences would be if the city rejects the proposal, or what monitoring system would be in place to ensure that the council followed the Open Meetings Act from now on if it accepts the agreement.

Attempts to reach interim Mayor Jeanette Walden, councilwoman Denese Shinholster and city attorney Jimmy Jordan were unsuccessful Monday. City Manager Barry Jarrett was out of the office Monday.

The memorandum also indicates that the city failed on other occasions to follow the open meetings law, either by meeting in closed sessions on government business that should have been open to the public or by failing to provide proper notification of a public meeting.

According to the memorandum, the law allows the state to impose a fine of up to $1,000 for an initial violation and $2,500 for each subsequent violation within a 12-month period.

The state wants the city to admit that the violations occurred; pledge to conduct all future meetings in open sessions (except closed sessions as permitted by Georgia law); and attend training sessions on the law regarding open records and open meetings.

If the city fails to meet those requirements, according to the memorandum, it would be subject to a $3,500 fine for a first violation and $2,500 for subsequent violations.

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.