Attorneys for the City of Thomaston and Upson County were back in front of Upson County Superior Court Judge W. Fletcher Sams last Thursday afternoon after the city alleged the county failed to follow a Consent Order issued by Judge Sams on September 27, 2012 to release its records to the city. During the hearing, Judge Sams ordered the county to turn over the files to the city.
At issue are county records the city contends are needed for the city to make a proposal before Senior Judge Stephen Bosworth on March 25 in regards to the division of the one percent Local Option Sales Tax (LOST). City attorney Joel Bentley said even with the release of the files now, the city may not have time to adequately prepare and present its case.
“We first filed an Open Records request in May of 2011, in anticipation of the then upcoming LOST negotiations. We are now almost two years into this project,” said Bentley. “The law dictates how the one percent sales tax in this county will be divided between the city and the county. We are six weeks out from having the judge decide whether our proposal or the proposal from the county is more appropriate, and that will dictate how LOST will be divided between the city and the county for the next 10 years. I cannot state, with all candor, whether the city will be able to have its proposal put together in sufficient time to be able to present our best offer to this judge. We don’t have the time with the information we needed to be able to put that proposal before the judge.”
Thomaston has sought basic financial records of the county through Open Record requests since May 2011 to prepare for negotiating with the county over the allocation of Local Option Sales Taxes (LOST) proceeds between the city and county, and for use in discussing service delivery between the city and county. For more than a year, the county failed to release the records, forcing the city to file suit against the county in May 2012.
At the hearing for the Consent Order in September, Judge Sams kept the case open and active, so that any further disputes over the city’s access to the county’s records could be resolved more immediately without the necessity of city again filing suit. Such was the case last Thursday, as the city contends the county still has not turned over all the requested records.
Prior to the start of the hearing Thursday afternoon, Judge Sams called legal counsel for both the city and the county into his chambers for a conference. Following that, the counsels met with their respective clients. The hearing began a short time later and lasted just 20 minutes.
Judge Sams opened the hearing by referring to the meeting he had held with the attorneys, and stated that the year-end reports of the county from 2009, 2010, and 2011 would be marked as exhibits and copies provided to the city. Sams added that the county has told him that the computer containing the year-end report for 2008 “crashed,” and that the county is in the process of looking for a printed copy of the 2008 report.
“It is my goal at this time to reach a consensus where this information can be shared as quickly as possible,” stated Judge Sams. “First and foremost, I implore you to make sure that the city receives the information that it is entitled to.”
The judge went on to say that city has said the county has not given them the information in the same format that it was given to the judge. Sams suggested that a special master could be appointed to study the written records and the computer files to see if any of the files available have not be turned over.
In regards to information requested by the city on joint projects and county health insurance claims, county attorney Truitt Mallory stated that the county could have a breakdown of the joint projects to the city by Monday afternoon, as well as starting to turn over health insurance files as they are found.
“I find that the city is absolutely entitled to this information,” replied Judge Sams. “To the extent that it is available, it should be surrendered to them by Monday afternoon. The county will also turn over all files related to the health insurance. This does not include medical claims against individuals.”
Judge Sams added that as the LOST negotiations are going before Judge Bosworth on March 25, that he was reserving sanctions until after the negotiations are concluded.