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Chattooga government drags feet on records request by challenger

As the race for County Commissioner heats up in Chattooga County, one candidate says the incumbent and the office staff are making it difficult for him to get his open records requests filled.

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As the race for County Commissioner heats up in Chattooga County, one candidate says the incumbent and the office staff are making it difficult for him to get his open records requests filled.

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Democrat challenger Jimmy Holbrook says Commissioner Jason Winters and County Attorney Chris Corbin are giving him the runaround on some Chattooga County budget documents.

Holbrook says he contacted the office and filed an open records request (ORR) on August 31, one the county said was too broad. After narrowly defining his desired paperwork, County Attorney Chris Corbin told Holbrook the request would be $99 for retrieval and $0.10 per page for any copies. Requesting bank statements, pay stubs for economic development directors, statements of utility accounts, 7 years of budget documents, and contracts and payment to the county attorney, Holbrook doesn’t think his request is outrageous or information that shouldn’t already be public.

Once Holbrook acknowledged his willingness to pay the $99 through campaign account, he says he was contacted by email by Corbin, who informed him that copy time would be 30-40 hours at a rate of $19.91 per hour, in addition to the $0.10 per page.

At 30 hours of copy time, that’s $597.30. At 40 hours, the total come to $796.40. Both of those number exclude the cost of paper.

http://chattooga.allongeorgia.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2016/09/Chattooga_Corbin-Holbrook-EMAIL-Sept-21.pdf

Standard practice allows for the review of such retrieved documents and then, at the request of the petitioner, copies can be made at the county office, or by other means, at the expense of the petitioner. The standard practice also requires express permission.

Holbrook says he’s concerned because early voting begins October 17 and he doesn’t feel the public has all the facts about the financial stability of the county.

Corbin could not be reached for comment at the time of publishing.

Holbook issued the following statement on the issue to AllOnGeorgia:

Commissioner Winters has made every attempt to stall my request for records from his office.  These are budgetary records that should be made available to any citizen that requests them.  In fact, if Commissioner Winters posted the county audits online at www.audits.ga.gov , which shows complete transparency, many of the requested documents would already be public knowledge.  The fact is, the commissioner has not posted audits since 2011.  Every other governmental entity in our county, and surrounding counties has posted theirs online.
After changing his mind as to how much he would charge my campaign for these records, and telling me that it would take two weeks to have the information, I have turned over all my correspondence with the commissioner’s office to an attorney and have contacted Deputy Attorney General Dennis Dunn regarding this matter.  Deputy Attorney General Dunn has turned the matter over to the state’s Open Records Division.  
I have consulted with the county attorney, and we have worked out an agreement to speed up the process of getting at least part of the information that has been requested in a more timely manner; however, I still take issue with the commissioner’s change of mind regarding how much he intends to charge for copies of these records. 
This information is public record.  It has been proven that Commissioner Winters is already close to a quarter of a million dollars behind in payments to other counties housing inmates.  How much more does our county owe from this year that Commissioner Winters wants to pay with next year’s tax money?
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Jessica Szilagyi is a former Statewide Contributor for AllOnGeorgia.com.

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