City of Augusta defends fire chief hiring process in court

CSRA News

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Augusta lawyers in court defending the process it followed for hiring a new fire chief.

“The whole purpose of this is to let the public know the records of people under consideration so people can talk to their elected representatives to say ‘look you ought to take a look at the other guy he’s better’,” said Georgia Press Association attorney David Hudson.

On April 15th, Augusta commissioners interviewed four candidates for the position. NewsChannel 6 and other press organizations filed open records requests for information on the four. 

The city did not provide any documents until six days later when it named Antonio Burden as the only finalist. 

The lawsuit wants the court to order the city to release all the information on ‘as many as three candidates’ as the law states and then wait 14 days before voting on the fire chief as is stated in the law.  

“Their argument of saying ‘now there’s only one finalist, that’s all you’re privy to’. We asked before there was only one finalist,” said Scott Hudson of the Augusta Press, one of the plaintiffs in the case. 

City attorneys are arguing state law was followed because Burden was the only finalist, and his information was released. 

“The problem we have here is that the media itself has decided that, because the commission interviewed four people, that they must have been finalists. They could not be finalists before the commission interviewed them,” said Law Department General Counsel Wayne Brown.   

“No one has been so brazen as the city to take a whole group of candidates and say ‘we came up with one’, even though the statute says you have to tell the records on at least three. ‘We just came up with one’,” said Attorney Hudson. 

City lawyers are saying the commission plans to vote on naming Burden fire chief on May 11th. That would be 19 days after his information was released to the press.

Judge Jesse Stone says he’ll make a ruling on Wednesday. 

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. released a statement regarding the open records request following today’s court hearing.

“Augusta is thankful for the opportunity to address our coordination of Open Records
and Open Meetings within this legal forum. It is and always will be our intent to respond
appropriately to all inquiries within the parameters of the law. We remain confident that
our actions are fully in line with that goal and intention, and we look forward to a
favorable outcome as we move forward within this process.”

Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis, Jr.

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