The Marietta Daily Journal recently carried a front-page story of the embattled Cobb County Commissioner Tim Lee’s attempt to resolve an Ethics Commission complaint via a letter of apology that subsequently went public. This is merely the latest twist or turn in a saga surrounding a murky stadium deal that is now reported subject to litigation.
The funny thing that struck me was that Tim Lee is alleged to have used a private e-mail account to communicate about something that was, essentially, the County’s business, while employed by the county in the capacity of the head of the board of commissioners. Public officials’ private accounts are generally not subject to FOIA, as these accounts are assumed to be not used to conduct the public business.
But, here’s a backstory: the new Braves stadium deal was reported to be sealed by the interested parties meeting individually with each commissioner prior to the vote. If this is indeed true, then it could be concluded that quorum reporting requirements were ducked.
This new Braves stadium deal is larger in monetary value than any of the very much-contested SPLOST programs, which are required to go to a general public election. This deal was so huge that the scant three weeks of initial allotted time for public notice was shocking to the public for such a large deal; and at the same time, it is noted that this deal was so rushed that the four of the commissioners voted it through with some of the documentation not yet completed.
This means one other thing: if one commissioner can allegedly use a private e-mail account to regarding a $1 Billion-plus deal, then what are the private e-mail accounts of other public officials across the country being used for, besides possibly skirting FOIA?
Hiding information with the use of questionable methods, if done so to avoid the scrutiny of the public, might provide for a First Amendment lawsuit alleging prior restraint by censorship via obstruction of the rights of the press under FOIA.
Have you checked public records lately, and searched for use of private e-mail accounts?