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Attorney credited for helping with bill
Measure revises open records law
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Forsyth County News

 

His name won’t be found anywhere in the bill, but Forsyth County’s attorney played a role in crafting legislation bringing government transparency in line with the 21st century.

“It’s something I’ve been honored to be a part of,” Ken Jarrard said. “It’s a great topic and it’s one that I’m passionate about.”

House Bill 397, passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the Georgia Legislature, awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.

The bill revises laws on open meetings and open records to include technology such as e-mails and teleconferencing, among other changes.

Jarrard said the goal was to “clear up some perceived inconsistencies in the law and to better deal with the digital electronic age that we work in.”

The bill, he said, needed to be written as a careful “balance between the overreaching policy goals of the state of Georgia — which is to ensure transparency, and confidence in the government — while ensuring that government is, in fact, able to run efficiently.”

“That’s a tough balance to strike,” he said.

The bill passed muster with state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans.

Jarrard didn’t write the legislation. According to District 171 state Rep. Jay Powell, however, Jarrard did have “some very helpful comments about the bill and we worked together to try to satisfy his perspective from a local government standpoint to make sure it would be balanced.”

Powell, a Republican from Camilla who authored the bill, said Jarrard offered his expertise, which then had to be weighed against representatives with the state’s municipal, county commission, press and hospital associations, among others.

“It was a real balancing act. It wasn’t like you had one list of things and you just fixed it,” Powell said. “It was like you had several lists.”

Among the changes is allowing a quorum for attending statewide, multi-jurisdictional or regional meetings, as well as social, civic or religious events, as long as no official action is taken by members.

The bill resulted from a push from Attorney General Sam Olens to clarify and update state policy.

Forsyth County’s commissioners drew attention from Olens’ office last year for reportedly meeting in two groups of two with the mayor of Cumming.

Jarrard said two-by-two meetings weren’t addressed in the changes, however the bill does state that a perception of an attempt to evade the rules is the same thing as actually breaking a rule.

“If they’re doing that to evade requirements of a called meeting, they can still get in trouble,” Jarrard said.

He added that the bill is a good one, but “that doesn’t mean we have an agreement on every element of it.”

Jarrard has been working in government law for about 15 years. Over the past six years, he’s done a lot of training for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

“I do all their open records and open meetings act training, so I think when they saw a bill like this coming down the pike, I think that’s what they thought of — someone that could perhaps bring some real-world, practical experience to the creation of this legislation,” Jarrard said.

The measure also allows for teleconferencing into meetings, providing a quorum is present. The bill adds e-mail communications and increases fines for violations.

It also makes some changes to update technology for those seeking open records information.

“Since the last major revision, I think the digital environment has exploded and, really, the open records prior to this latest enactment didn’t do a great job of addressing it,” Jarrard said. “This will do a much better job once the governor signs it into law.”