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AG: Lawsuit likely not last
Olens says job is to make people follow the law
State Attorney General Sam Olens was the guest speaker for a Republican breakfast Saturday in Cumming. - photo by Autumn Vetter

Georgia’s attorney general said the city of Cumming probably won’t be the last local government sued over violations of the state Open Meetings Act.

“There are some things you do as the state’s attorney that some people are happy about and some people aren’t,” Olens said. “But my job isn’t to make people happy, it’s to make people follow the law and we’re going to do that.”

Olens’ remarks came Saturday as he addressed a breakfast meeting of three local Republican groups at Tam’s Backstage Restaurant.

Last week, he filed a lawsuit against Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt.

The suit stems from a meeting of the city council this spring, when Gravitt ordered that a Roswell woman and her video camera be removed from the meeting.

The woman, activist Nydia Tisdale, and her camera were removed from the meeting, and she was also reportedly told that video recording was not permitted and later that she couldn’t record the meeting on her cell phone.

The suit filed by Olens asks Forsyth County Superior Court to impose a $1,000 fine for the first violation and $2,500 each for the second and third. It also asks the court to award attorney’s fees and other litigation costs.

On Saturday, Olens said he felt he had no other choice than to file the lawsuit.

“I think it is a fair statement to say that I tried to resolve the matter in the weeks between [the incident and filing the suit],” he said. “I think it is a fair statement to say that I was offended by the response from the city. And the response that I had available to me was to then file a lawsuit, which is what I did.

“And that won’t be the only lawsuit you see filed pertaining to the state of Georgia this year with open government.”

The city has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit.

Gravitt has previously deferred comment on the matter to Dana Miles, the city’s attorney. Miles did not return phone calls seeking reaction to Olens’ comments.

On Saturday, Olens noted that on the day of the city council meeting in question, a new Georgia open meetings law went into effect. However, he said, video recordings were allowed prior to that.

“The video taping of public meetings was in the old law as well as the new law,” he said. “Access to government is essential, and there’s no question that there was a violation of the open meetings act and we want an admission of that violation by the city and a promise not to violate it in the future.”

He said the city could close the situation.

“Any time the city wants to admit to the violation and end the case, that would be fine with me,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of staff, but we’re going to litigate this matter.

“I think the public deserves it. I think it’s essential that the public understands that when violations occur, the state’s attorney general’s office is going to take action. If you don’t take action, why have the law? And I think that’s expected of us to do our job.”

Olens also touched on a variety of other issues during the meeting, which drew members of the Forsyth County Republican Party, the Republican Women of Forsyth County and the Forsyth County Young Republicans.

Among them were: legal battles involving Lake Lanier and Georgia, Alabama and Florida; a possible decision by the Supreme Court on health care measures; the creation of a state solicitor general post; and ethics laws.

The gathering also heard from Forsyth Commissioners Jim Boff and Brian Tam, who talked about county government matters.