Open meetings lawsuit
What: Lawsuit alleging Habersham County officials violated open meetings law
When: Trial starts at 9 a.m. Monday
A lawsuit alleging that the Habersham County Board of Commissioners and Habersham County Airport Authority violated open meetings and records laws on several occasions last year is scheduled to begin today in Clarkesville.
“This is a public interest lawsuit in an attempt to obtain good government,” said Gainesville attorney Julius Hulsey. “My clients are not asking for anything other than to have local government comply with the sunshine laws, and to be reimbursed for their costs and expenses for bringing this public interest lawsuit.”
The non-jury trial will be held before Senior Judge Robert Struble.
The Airport Authority is alleged to have held special meetings in February, June, July and September of 2014 without properly announcing them to the public, either by failing to publish notices in the local newspaper or failing to post notices in a timely manner at the location where such meetings were held.
The Airport Authority had been involved in a battle to hire a new fixed-base operator while ending a longtime contract with James Tatum to provide services such as fueling, hangar space, and aircraft rental, maintenance and instruction.
The Airport Authority later entered into contracts with the new FBO, Blue Sky Flight Services, and a bank to borrow money for fuel purchases, but the Board of Commissioners never signed off on the deal.
That led to a judge’s order in January requiring Habersham commissioners to review the agreements and approve or disapprove them in a public meeting.
In June, Hulsey filed the latest suit, with residents and whistleblowers as plaintiffs, which alleges that Habersham officials have “demonstrated their disdain for the law of the state as it required them to notice public meetings, keep accurate minutes and respond to open records requests.”
The lawsuit claims that officials improperly called closed meeting sessions last year, possibly to discuss the FBO contract, and used private email addresses to communicate and share records in an effort to circumvent transparency laws.
“In several cases we found records were not being produced in response to open records requests and in some cases being destroyed after the lawsuit had been filed,” Hulsey said.
A former deputy clerk of finance in the Habersham County Magistrate Court has claimed that she was wrongly terminated because of these suits.
Janice Griggs and others served as the lead plaintiffs in both lawsuits, and Hulsey said county officials told him she was fired in a cost-cutting move to benefit taxpayers.
Commissioners and members of the Airport Authority have denied the allegations against them, and have requested that the court deny plaintiffs’ claims and “enter an order finding no violations of the Open Meetings Act with regard to the executive session minutes.”