Three members of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners have been cleared of charges that they violated Georgia’s open meetings law in June, documents from the State Attorney General’s Office show.
Attorney General’s Office Spokesperson Lauren Kane said the office closed an investigation earlier this month into allegations that Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph, and Commissioners Sonna Singleton and Gail Hambrick met behind closed doors during a recess in a June 29 commission meeting.
Kane said Senior Assistant Attorney General Stefan Ritter contacted Rex Resident, Rosa Barbee, who filed the complaint that launched the investigation, on July 28, to inform her that it did not appear that the three commissioners met during the recess.
“The file has been closed,” Kane said on Tuesday. “It was closed 10 days after July 28.”
Ritter’s letter to Barbee serves as a bit of vindication for Ralph, Singleton and Hambrick, who argued last month that they had not violated the open meetings law. Each had said they were separated, engaged in different actions, while the meeting was in recess.
“It appears from [county attorney Jack Hancock’s response to Barbee’s complaint] that the board may not have violated the Open Meetings Law because during the recess, only two members of the board engaged in conversation,” Ritter wrote in the letter. “Three members of the board would need to be gathered and discussing board business to constitute a quorum of the board members.”
Hancock, in his July 25 response to Barbee’s complaint, called her assertions of what happened during the recess a “blatant misrepresentation of what occurred.” The attorney wrote in his response that Ralph met with Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell, in Bell’s office, during the recess, while Hambrick met with a constituent, and Singleton stood in a public hallway, away from other commissioners.
Those are the same assertions of what happened that Ralph, Singleton and Hambrick gave when contacted by the Clayton News Daily last month, about the complaint. Hancock included affidavits from Ralph, Singleton, Hambrick and Bell with his written response.
“There is nothing in the [meeting] record to evidence Commissioners Ralph, Singleton and Hambrick retreating to a closed door meeting,” Hancock wrote in his response.
Ritter gave Barbee 10 days, from the date of his letter, to provide evidence that a behind-closed-doors meeting took place, but she said on Tuesday that she was not able to gather her evidence in the time allotted. “I didn’t have enough time to get my evidence together,” Barbee said.
In a joint written statement, Ralph, Singleton and Hambrick criticized Barbee for filing the complaint. They began their response by pointing out that Barbee ran against, and was defeated by, Singleton in the Commission’s District 1 election in 2010.
“Since that time, she has made numerous baseless, and politically motivated allegations in an effort to discredit us and our actions,” the three commissioners said in their written statement. “She, and her small cadre of friends, are often cited as ‘Commission Observers’ in stories involving all three of the above mentioned commissioners. Fortunately, the attorney general's actions are motivated by facts, not politics.”
Barbee stuck with her assertion that the three commissioners met behind closed doors, however. The Rex resident said she plans to re-file her complaint with the attorney general’s office. She said will add to it more evidence, which she said includes the June 29 commission meeting minutes, and, possibly, affidavits from people in attendance at the meeting.
“It’s still open,” she defiantly proclaimed. “I just have to gather my evidence.”