The following article is a column and includes opinion and personal perspective of the author.
I filed an Open Records Request with the Evans County Board of Education on Monday morning in an effort to review their bank statements for the last two years. The request is for a two year period because I am looking for something very specific based on some information I was given by an Evans County resident. I am not able to provide the reason to the BOE at this time, and, by law, I am not required to do so. My request was not for copies but to simply review the statements in the district office.
I promptly received a response from the Assistant to Superintendent Marty Waters explaining that my request would total $2,290.57 less the first fifteen minutes of time for a final total of $2,279.37. Here’s the breakdown:
- 2 hours to pull the bank statements + 4 hours to ensure all redactions are made = $268.68
- 45 minutes to copy and 90 hours redact detailed bank statements of general operating account and SFS, CES<, CMS, and CHS accounts = $1,210.50
- 15 minute to copy and redact statements for General Money Market & donations accounts = $26.90
- 15 minutes to copy and 24 hours to redact statements for SPLOST, debt service, bond, and ‘SFS MM’ = $322.80
- 45 minutes to copy and 7.75 hours to redact statements from a now-closed CES bank account = $110.96
- 15 minutes to copy and redact statements for the Construction Fund Bank Account = $36.99
- School Food Service bank accounts = $18.24
- $295.20 to make copies of all of these documents at $0.10/per page for a total of 2,952 pages of bank statements for two years.
135 hours worth of work by employees well above the ‘lowest paid employee’ capable of completing the work.
So, to begin with the issues.
First, the assistant told me that giving me the information would be “an invasion of personal property (i.e. bank account numbers).” That is not a complete or legal answer. O.C.G.A 50-18-71 (d) specifically says that should any information be withheld, the code section, subsection, and paragraph allowing the withholding shall be provided to the requestor. The Evans County Board of Education was unable to do that.
Second, does the Board of Education consider it “an invasion of personal property” twice a month when it issues checks to employees of the district with the bank account number plastered across the check?
Third, I’m fairly well-versed on the Georgia Open Records Act, but I took the time to give it a second look because the Board office seemed very adament about the costs associated with redacting. I was not able to find anything about bank account numbers. For those of you not interested in perusing it yourself, I’ll give you a brief run down of the items currently exempt from the Open Records Act:
Medical and veterinary reords, law enforcement records on confidential sources, law enforcement documents on open investigations, Motor Vehicle Accident Reports, jury list data, confidential evaluations within government agencies, records about hiring/firing/discipline of public officers/employees (for 10 days only), real estate appraisals before a transaction is complete, sealed bids, information on persons under consideration of employment, some information related to members of the Georgia legislature, historical research value items under USG, Georgia DNR’s information on historic property registration, farm water use by individual farms, agriculture of food system records for critical infrastructure, confidential Dept. of Agriculture information, site-specific information on public/private land if DNR says it will be harmful to release, information related to neighborhood watches and public safety notifications, confidential records with the Dept. of Early Care, electronic signature data, carpooling & ridesharing data, information that would comprise security against sabotage or terrorist acts, certain 911 information, rec. department information for those under 12 years of age, State Road and Tollway Authority information, potential information of donors for post-secondary information, buyers of MARTA cards, certain mapping information, retirement system data, trade secrets, weapons carry permit details, attorney-client privilege information, tax matters, computer software information, rating plans, Dept. of Economic Development data, and information that would jeopardize federal funding.
If you took the time to read the italicized summary, you now know that government bank account numbers are not included. The only mention of personal privacy is in reference to medical records (understandably) and there are otherwise no mentions of personal property – most likely because governments do not have personal property. That is why their buildings and properties are called ‘public property.’
O.C.G.A. 50-18-72(a)(20)(A) specifically outlines bank account informatin, but only for individuals and makes no mention of a government agency.
For a moment, I will err on the side of caution and give the Board the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the Board of Education is anticipating check images with the employee bank account on the back of it, but those photos come at the back of a statement, all bundled together, if they’re even offered at all, and could easily be ‘ripped off’ for all intents and purposes of fulfilling the request. However, most banks only provide the front of the check, which does not reveal any personal information of the person cashing the check, and requires a user to go online to view both sides. Bank account numbers are not included in the itemized expenses.
Of course, it is unclear what the Board of Education is trying to do because of the lack of compliance with the Open Records Act.
Before the close of business Monday, I asked if the attorney for the Board of Education reviewed the response issued to me, how many bank accounts the Board of Education maintains, and at which banking institution their financial transactions are conducted. My email has not yet been returned.
AllOnGeorgia is prepared to pay for documents according to the law – especially in instances where we have been given information from the public on a particular issue – but $2,290 is outrageous when you look at the breakdown of costs and it is likely illegal when considering there are no legal grounds for the redaction.