Georgia Supreme Court rules for Atlanta Progressive News

By Maria Saporta

This story has been updated to include a response from the Atlanta City Council.

It’s a David versus Goliath story — Atlanta style.

On Monday, Matthew Cardinale, news editor of the Atlanta Progressive News website, won a case in the Georgia Supreme Court against the City of Atlanta.

Cardinale, who is not an attorney, filed a case against the Atlanta City Council for failing disclose which council representatives voted for and against an action at a retreat in February 2010. He argued that not disclosing those names was in violation of Georgia’s Open Meetings Act.

To read the ruling, click here.

Cardinale first took the city to trial court, where his case was dismissed. Then the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision.

But the Georgia Supreme Couth said that the Court of Appeals erred in its interpretation of the law, and said the minutes of the meeting should have included the names of the persons voting against a proposal or abstaining when the vote is not taken by roll-call and is not unanimous. The City Council vote in question was 8 to 7.

The vote involved amending the existing rules governing public comment at Council committee meetings. By a show of hands, seven Council members voted in favor of amending the current rules while eight members voted to maintain the existing rules.

Cardinale requested that the city’s minutes of the meetings should have recorded how each councilmember had voted.

In response, Cardinale received a memo authored by the City’s law department that said that in the case of a non-roll-call vote, the Open Meetings Act “does not require the names of each Councilmember voting for and against the proposal be recorded in the minutes.”

Cardinale addressed the Atlanta City Council during the public comments portion of Monday’s meeting. He delivered a terse rebuke and called on Councilperson Alex Wan to pay the city for some costs of the litigation.

“I’m here today to announce that despite abusive, anti-democratic efforts … the days of secret votes in the State of Georgia are officially over,” Cardinale said.

“Today, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled that you were wrong, that citizens have a right to know how (their public officials) voted,” Cardinale said.

“Mr. Wan, I call on you to reimburse the city for its [legal] efforts,” Cardinale said.

Cardinale continued: “You’re out of control….You better shape up because the citizens are rising up.”

The Atlanta City Council issued a statement late Monday. It reads in part:

“The City is disappointed with the decision and agrees with Justice Melton’s dissent that the City’s interpretation of the plain language of the statute was straightforward and reasonable.  Nevertheless, the City accepts and will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court.  The case will now be returned to Judge Brasher in the Fulton County Superior Court for further litigation on the merits.”

A longtime senior advocate named Ben Howard did step forward to commend Cardinale and those who supported his efforts.

Howard then called on the council to work with the Atlanta Housing Authority to amend its policies on demolishing public housing – which happens to be another issue that Cardinale has championed.

Cardinale founded APN — which could be described as an advocacy website — after moving to Atlanta from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Partly because of his efforts in this case, Cardinale is now applying to law schools with the hopes of enrolling in the fall.

David Pendered contributed to this report.

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