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Cumming makes appeal of open meetings decision official

Will challenge ruling in favor of state attorney general

POSTED: September 5, 2014 12:04 a.m.
FCN file photo/

The Cumming City Council voted 5-0 on Wednesday to approve appealing a recent decision in an open meetings dispute with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.

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CUMMING — The Cumming City Council voted 5-0 on Wednesday to approve appealing a recent decision in an open meetings dispute with Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens.

In the ruling, which was filed in late August, Senior Superior Court Judge Robert Adamson granted a request from Olens’ camp for summary judgment in the case. He also ordered the city and Mayor H. Ford Gravitt to pay $12,000 in penalties plus attorney fees.

The case stemmed from an April 2012 incident in which Roswell resident Nydia Tisdale was asked by Gravitt to stop filming during a council meeting.

Adamson’s ruling for summary judgment came more than a year after a July 2013 hearing on the matter, in which attorneys for the city asked that the case be dismissed, contending that Gravitt had sovereign immunity as an elected official.

During a called meeting Wednesday afternoon, attorney Kevin Tallant recommended pursuing the appeal.

“There are … three errors we believe that are in the order that was made,” Tallant told the councilmen after they reconvened the public meeting following a 20-minute executive session.

“The first is that the law as written, the open meetings act law, does not consider the city of Cumming as an entity to be subject to fines,” Tallant said. “It only allows for fines to be levied against people.”

The second and third points Tallant addressed went back to the sovereign immunity issue, which he contends allow the mayor and city “to be free from suit except in very limited circumstances.”

“And that is a constitutional doctrine, which of course then trumps the law written by the legislature,” he said. “Official immunity, again, says that the mayor can only be subject to suit in very limited circumstances and this open meetings act violation is not one of those.”

A point of fact Tallant addressed to council relates to a claim by Tisdale that she was forcibly removed from the April 2012 meeting.

“I believe it actually says in here [in Adamson’s order] that [Gravitt] instructed that she be removed from the meeting and that is simply not the case,” Tallant said. “… In fact, we presented evidence to the judge wherein Ms. Tisdale admitted to a third party that she was not thrown out of the meeting, that only she was not allowed to film.”

After the meeting Wednesday, Tallant said a notice of appeal would remove jurisdiction of the case from Adamson and the matter will eventually go to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

“It will then be decided by a three-judge panel in Atlanta,” Tallant said. “My experience tells me that it’s going to be a decent amount of waiting.”

 

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