The investigation into whether city officials violated the Georgia Open Meetings Act during the tenure of former City Manager Frank Parker probably will take until mid-September or later to complete, Statesboro Mayor Jan Moore told City Council during its regular public meeting Tuesday.
Giving one of her promised updates, Moore said the investigating attorney, Tom A. Peterson IV, had informed her that he is completing his interviews but that he will need to spend “a sizeable amount of time” reviewing the information.
In what Moore described as a two-line email, Peterson estimated that this will take more than 30 days, she said.
“So, my assumption is, we will not hear anything back from Mr. Peterson (until), at the earliest, mid- to late September, would be my guess,” she said.
She also had communicated with Peterson about the cost of the investigation.
“We’ve appropriated X amount of money to do that,” Moore said. “If we need to go over that, then council will need to approve it, so I asked him to please keep me apprised of where we were from a billing standpoint.”
The amount Moore referred to is a $20,000 limit, in city policy, on spending that can be approved by the city manager without City Council’s approval.
Peterson’s witness interviews are being recorded. They will be transcribed, Moore said, acknowledging that under the Georgia Open Records Law, the transcriptions will become part of the public record 10 days after the investigation is concluded. Any other documents made during the investigation also would become available to the public, with the exception of Peterson’s notes, Moore said.
“The conclusion, in my opinion, will be when the report is issued,” she said.
Although City Attorney Alvin Leaphart had been fairly certain on these points, Moore said, she had thought it best, “given the situation,” to get an outside opinion.
“Mr. Peterson had another attorney look at it and tell us what would be the Open Records Act on this information that was being collected, and then at our next council meeting, I’ll hand that opinion out,” Moore said.
She asked Leaphart if he agreed with her understanding.
“That’s my reading of the Open Meetings Law, when the investigation is complete, 10 days after the completion of the investigation, all of that, except possibly his own personal notes, would be available, would be public record,” Leaphart said. “But right now, it is not subject to an open records request; it is an ongoing investigation.”
When Councilman Phil Boyum asked Tuesday, Moore and Leaphart said the city had not received any open records requests for investigation materials.
“We’ve had some but not directly pertaining to that; some to do with billing and things of that nature, which we haven’t received any to be able to share,” Moore said.
The attorney’s billing probably would be subject to an open records request, Leaphart said.
The Statesboro Herald will request documents that show the cost of the investigation and will have a request on file seeking access to the investigation materials as soon as they become available.
City Council unanimously ordered the investigation June 24, the day members voted 3-2 to fire Parker. These actions followed remarks by Parker, at a June 19 meeting of city department heads and reported during the June 24 called council meeting, that he had met with a majority of council members in private on some occasions to discuss city business and had seen Leaphart meet with a majority of council members in his office. Leaphart denied ever having done this.
The mayor and council asked Municipal Court Judge Keith Barber to select an attorney with no connections to the city to conduct an investigation. Barber chose Peterson, a Vidalia private practice lawyer and former Augusta assistant district attorney, and he began interviewing witnesses, including city officials, July 8.
In another attempt to control the cost, Moore asked Barber to get three price quotes for transcription of the recorded interviews, which he did, she said Tuesday.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.