A former Rincon police chief is now charging the city with violating state open records statutes and has filed suit against Rincon for violating open meetings statutes.
Michael Berry, who was fired back in September, alleges that documents pertaining to his termination weren’t being provided to him in the time mandated by open records laws. Berry and his attorneys filed suit Monday in Effingham County Superior Court, claiming a meeting held Sept. 8 concerning Berry was inappropriately closed to Berry and other citizens. The lawsuit also states that information that led to Berry’s suspension and ultimate dismissal was received at the meeting, which lasted until 3:30 a.m. Sept. 9.
“There is no exception under the Open Meetings Act which would allow this meeting to fall outside the ‘openness’ requirements of the Act,” the lawsuit contends.
The lawsuit also charges that no public vote was taken to suspend and terminate Berry’s employment.
In an e-mail to city attorney Raymond Dickey, Berry said he had not received by 5:23 p.m. on Dec. 5 the information he had requested originally on Dec. 1. Dickey countered that Berry’s interpretation of the applicable code sections was “misguided.” According to Dickey, the city has three business days to respond to Berry’s original Dec. 1 request, not inclusive of the day the request was made.
“In fact, your request has been responded to and the available documents are ready for your review,” Dickey wrote in a Dec. 4 e-mail to Berry.
Dickey also wrote that he directs Berry not to communicate with his client, its employees or representatives since Berry has indicated he intends to pursue civil litigation against the city.
Berry, who counters his reading of the state’s open records law is correct, said Monday afternoon he still had not received the information he had requested, much of which can be sent by e-mail. Berry has moved back to Virginia.
The documents Berry is requesting are largely e-mails or other information that is stored electronically, he wrote in an e-mail to Dickey. He also said the city has failed to declare what information, if any, is considered privileged and not subject to open records laws.
Under his request are the minutes, notes, e-mails, documents, transcripts, recordings and personal notes from the: Sept. 8 city council meeting, to include personal notes; the Sept. 10 special called city council meeting; Berry’s Nov. 17 termination appeal hearing; the city’s administrative investigation into the Rincon Police Department and Berry; plus a copy of all information concerning Berry sent to the Georgia Peace Officers Standards and Training Council; and all documents containing information on the list of allegations the city disseminated to local media outlets.
Berry also is requesting to be informed when the administrative investigation, which began Sept. 10, is finished so he will know if Dickey’s notes are covered under the attorney-client privilege.
In a Thursday afternoon response to Berry, Dickey said documents requested — aside from his work product notes — are available for review. But documents from the city’s administrative investigation are not available because the probe has not been concluded. Dickey also wrote that no information concerning Berry had been sent to POST as of Thursday afternoon. He also replied to Berry that no documents providing information on the allegations concerning Berry had been forwarded to local news media outlets.
A phone call placed Monday at 1:30 p.m. to Dickey’s office had not been returned as of press time.