Texts: Atlanta tried to shroud public records, sow confusion

This Sept. 2, 2015 photo shows mayor Kasim Reed, left, and press secretary, Jenna Garland, right in Atlanta. A profanity-laced exchange of text messages shows that Garland advised a city official to be "as unhelpful as possible" in responding to a public records request. WSB-TV reports that the spokeswoman also advised the official to "drag this out" as long as possible and provide information in the most confusing format available. The station had requested records for a 2017 story that eventually revealed that several city council members had failed to fully pay their water bills. (John Spink /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA - A profanity-laced exchange of text messages shows that an Atlanta city spokeswoman advised a city official to be "as unhelpful as possible" in responding to a request for public records.

Jenna Garland also advised the official to "drag this out" as long as possible, and provide the information "in the most confusing format available," WSB-TV reported .

The station had requested public records in 2017 for a story that eventually revealed that several city council members had failed to fully pay their water bills. The group included Keisha Lance Bottoms, who was then launching her successful mayoral bid.

Garland, who no longer works for the city, declined to comment to WSB.

Current city spokeswoman Anne Torres said in a Friday statement to The Associated Press that "all employees are expected to follow the letter and spirit of the Georgia Open Records Act."

The law states that "frustrating or attempting to frustrate the access to records by intentionally making records difficult to obtain or review" is illegal.

There's a "good argument" that a conspiracy to violate the law could result in up to a year in jail, said Clark D. Cunningham, a professor of law and ethics at Georgia State University.

"It would be appropriate for those people to be prosecuted. Otherwise, where's the deterrent?" he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution .

"We are aware of the situation, and it will be taken seriously," Katelyn Byrd, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, told the AP on Friday.


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