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Cumming sued over open meetings complaint
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Cumming’s mayor violated the state’s Open Meetings Act three times during one meeting this spring, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by the Georgia Attorney General’s Office.

In the suit, Attorney General Sam Olens cites what he contends are three violations stemming from an April 17 meeting during which Mayor H. Ford Gravitt told a Roswell woman she could not record video of that night’s City Council meeting.

The woman, activist Nydia Tisdale, and her video camera were removed on Gravitt’s orders, according to the suit.

She was also reportedly told that video recording was not permitted and later that she couldn’t record the meeting on her cellphone.

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. He also asks the court to award attorney’s fees and other litigation costs.

The city has 30 days to respond.

Attempts to reach Gravitt and City Attorney Dana Miles were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Tisdale could not immediately be reached for comment. She previously has not ruled out legal action, saying she would explore her options after the attorney general’s decision.

Lauren Kane, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said the suit is the first the office has pursued since the changes to the open meetings law took effect. The changes allow the state to seek civil penalties against government officials found to have violated the law.

The suit comes, Kane said, after the office had been “trying to negotiate with the city attorney and were never able to come to a resolution.”

After Tisdale filed her complaint with the state, Gravitt said the city was acting in the interest of safety by not allowing Tisdale’s video camera, which was mounted on a tripod.

The city later submitted a response, saying there was confusion with the new open meetings act rules, which had been signed into law earlier that day.

Olens did not agree. According to the lawsuit, “Mayor Gravitt and the officers and employees of the city of Cumming had an obligation to be aware of Georgia law at the time of their violations of its express terms.”

The suit continues: “Moreover, they were pointedly told about their legal obligations before violating them and proceeded anyway. The actions of the (city) were neither legally nor factually performed in objective good faith.”

Since filing its response to the initial complaint, the city has allowed what it refers to as “joint visual and sound recordings” at public meetings in city hall.

However, those seeking to take video are given a specific location from which to record.