The Atlanta Journal-Constitution named Attorney General Thurbert Baker today as one of its Heroes of Open Government. As Attorney General, Baker has won legislative approval to create an Open Government Mediation Program allowing him to intervene in Open Meetings and Open Records disputes at both the state and local level. The program has handled over 850 complaints since its inception, working to open government meetings to the public and ensuring citizens a right of access to government documents.
The award from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution singled out Attorney General Baker’s efforts to have records related to the City of Atlanta’s bid for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as well as bids for two Super Bowls opened to public inspection. As Atlanta’s bid for the hall of fame was put together, the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia contributed both staff and financial resources to the preparation of the bid. In addition, the public financing portion of the bid ultimately exceeded over $100 million through state grants and backing of revenue bonds. Atlanta’s bids for two Super Bowls also involved significant contributions of staff time in developing the proposals and huge commitments of financial resources on the part of Atlanta and the State of Georgia should Atlanta be awarded either Super Bowl.
Despite this massive public involvement, Central Atlanta Progress and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce maintained the only copies of the bid documents for all three bids, and these organizations refused to allow public inspection of those records. After those entities refused to release those bid documents, Attorney General Baker filed suit under the state’s Open Records Act to force disclosure of those public documents. Baker successfully argued for their disclosure at the trial court level, but currently Central Atlanta Progress and the Metro Chamber are appealing that decision to the Court of Appeals in an effort to prevent the public from viewing those bid documents.
In accepting the award, Baker made note of why he viewed open government as being vital to the legitimacy of government. Baker stated that, "We can't always assume that what government does is right. The counterbalance, the way we can get a sense of whether we're on the right road, is to have public input. And the only way to have meaningful input from the public is to ensure that they have access to government meetings and documents.”