HAMPTON – A former candidate for Hampton City Council indicated she will be filing a complaint with the state Attorney General’s Office concerning open records requests.
Sherry Chaney, who ran for Hampton City Council, indicated she was not satisfied with the city of Hampton’s response to open records requests she filed Sept. 30 concerning 22 financial accounts owned by the city.
The 22 financial accounts were disclosed as part of the budget process. According to the fiscal year 2020 budget book, the city had previously conducted financial affairs through the 22 bank accounts held at First National Bank, Fidelity Bank and Regions Bank.
These bank accounts included 12 accounts dedicated to the general fund, with six at FNB and six at Fidelity; a SPLOST bank account at Fidelity; a sewer debt relief account at FNB; a hotel-motel fund account at FNB; a local maintenance and improvement grant (LMIG) account at FNB; and five capital project accounts at FNB.
During the meeting, Alex Cohilas, Hampton city manager, said the accounts were “typical for cities of this size, that didn’t have certified accountants working on a daily basis.”
“It was easier to keep those funds separate,” Cohilas said. “Some folks sought to politicize the issue, but that wasn’t the intention.”
Since the 22 accounts were discussed during the budget process, the city is working to consolidate a number of those accounts. Ed Wall, who has been working with the city as a financial advisor, recommended the 22 accounts be consolidated into nine.
Chaney contended that the city had not been forthcoming in regards to the open records requests, and that the Attorney General’s Office would be contacted “due to prolonged efforts to gain access to financial documents.”
She also said that the day of the meeting, she received an email from City Clerk Melissa Brooks and Cohilas, which stated that if the records were on hand and the city had access to them, the records would be provided.
Cohilas said after the meeting that the city has been in communications with Chaney concerning the bank accounts.
“The commenter tonight did not tell the whole truth and did not report accurately the multiple communications that have gone back and forth with her,” he said. “First of all, the city’s not required by law to produce any records they don’t have. Those are not our records, those are the bank’s records.”
Cohilas said her original request was not clear as to what exactly was requested.
“Her request called for all the records. Since we were already seeking to get them for our council, we had already requested it,” he said. “One banking institution gave us a list of requirements, they went back and forth, and we had to respond to them and give them concise timeframes and exactly what we were looking for. Because her original request was so overbroad and incoherent, it didn’t clarify, and she didn’t understand the whole process.”
Cohilas said the city has not received all of the records, and it cannot produce what it does not have.
“We’ve been very forthright to her, very accurately reporting to her,” he said. “We can’t produce what we don’t have, and we’ve only received partial.”
Cohilas also said that Chaney has not paid for the open records request, despite being sent emails concerning what the open records request would cost.
According to Georgia’s Open Records Act, an agency, such as the city of Hampton, may “impose a reasonable charge” for the search, retrieval, redaction and production or copying costs for the open records requested.
Typically, these costs will not exceed “the prorated hourly salary of the lowest-paid employee” who is capable of handling such a request.
Cohilas also said that Chaney’s accusation of the city not being forthcoming with citizens was “ridiculous” as city officials had informed the public of the bank accounts.
“I revealed it,” he said. “She never knew about any of these issues until we brought it forward. So the city has acted transparently, and brought it forth in multiple public meetings. To imply there was a lack of transparency was, frankly, ridiculous and offensive.”