140 Days Later, Georgia College Paper Celebrates (Partial) Press Victory

It took more than four months and a fair bit of squabbling, but The Collegian at Georgia Perimeter College has finally begun receiving a set of records its staffers first requested from the school’s overseeing body in late July.

As I previously posted, since late last semester, the Collegian has been investigating a $16 million budget deficit at GPC that was accompanied by the controversial removal of the school’s president.   Over the summer, the paper filed a standard open records request with the University System of Georgia (USG)– GPC’s administrative overlord– to obtain documents related to the budget turmoil.

The USG countered that the request would cost close to $3,000, an amount Student Press Law Center executive director Frank LoMonte deemed “excessive” and outside counsel representing the Collegian called “arbitrary, capricious, and deliberately designed to obstruct access to public information of obvious critical concern.”

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Amid these publicly-stated concerns, the school first lowered the fee to a still outlandish $1,900, and most recently to $291, which Collegian EIC David Schick confirms is “a 90 percent reduction from the original estimate.”  Speaking of capricious…

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Yet, as Schick told me recently, “[E]ven after they agreed to lower the cost, they [were] delaying giving them to me by claim[ing] that every document has to be reviewed for ‘proprietary information,’ which ‘might be’ a part of an ‘open investigation,’ unrelated to the budget deficit I’m investigating.  Suspicious?”

Yes.  As the Collegian’s counsel wrote to the USG last month, “Frankly, from my vantage point it seems like pertinent, newsworthy information is being deliberately witheld under pretext and I respectfully request that you please offer a cogent explanation or release the records as promised with all deliberate speed.”

It ultimately wasn’t speedy, but now, at long last, there has been a bursting of the obfuscating-overcharging open records bubble.  Schick: “So far, we just have a partial amount of the total request, since they were told by our lawyer to release us information on a rolling basis.  But I’d say we can definitely mark this one as a win for the college journalist.”

Related

Student Newspaper’s $16 Million Investigation Hits $3,000 Wall

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