Today I sued the University System of Georgia

Official press release from the Student Press Law Center:

A former Georgia Perimeter College student journalist filed a lawsuit today against the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia for failing to produce public records concerning a $25 million budget shortfall that occurred at Georgia Perimeter College (“GPC”) in 2012.

The budget shortfall was first disclosed on May 7, 2012 and resulted in the layoff of 282 GPC employees and the dismissal of the president, Anthony Tricolli. Shortly thereafter, David Schick, then Editor-in-Chief of the GPC student newspaper, The Collegian, filed Open Records Act requests with GPC and the Board of Regents concerning the budget shortfall and the layoffs.

Mr. Schick, who is now an Atlanta-based freelance journalist and blogger, filed the lawsuit today in Fulton County Superior Court seeking an injunction directing the University System to comply with the Georgia Open Records Act. According to the lawsuit,1 the University System has not produced all the records Mr. Schick has requested and has instead engaged in numerous delaying tactics.

“The public deserves to know how so much money could have gone ‘missing’ from the budget and how it could go undetected for such a long period in time,” says Mr. Schick. “The buck stops with the Board of Regents and the records I requested could go a long way towards revealing what officials knew and when they knew it. These are open records and the public has a right to know.”

In July 2012, Mr. Schick filed two separate requests, one with GPC officials and one with the Board of Regents, requesting various e-mails, memos, and other correspondence regarding the budget shortfall at GPC. Neither the college nor the Board of Regents has promptly responded to Mr. Schick’s request as required by law.

The University System initially demanded Mr. Schick pay $2,963.39 to receive the records, a cost which Mr. Schick was able to debunk by presenting the sworn affidavit of a data- management expert. The lawsuit further charges that the University System claimed it was entitled to withhold key documents because of an ongoing “investigation,” but Mr. Schick’s lawyer asserts that no such exemption was applicable in this case and the records should have been promptly provided.

“Unfortunately, officials at both the Board of Regents and Georgia Perimeter College have used all manner of tactics to discourage my client and delay his receipt of these requested records,” says Daniel Levitas, an attorney with the Suwanee-based law firm of Burdine and Brown, who is representing Mr. Schick pro-bono at the request of the Student Press Law Center (“SPLC”), a non-profit press-rights group based in Arlington, Virginia.

After Mr. Schick was forced to obtain legal counsel in an effort to negotiate with the University System, he made multiple fruitless trips to University System headquarters where he received incomplete responses to his request. For its part, GPC has still not produced any documents more than 10 months after Mr. Schick’s initial request and has refused to budge from demanding $927.99 to honor his request. “This is an exorbitant and illegal fee and should be reduced,” says Mr. Levitas.

Mr. Schick said that he’s grown tired of the “excuses and foot-dragging.”

“I continue to pursue these records because I do not want to be just another journalist who reported on a major story without any meaningful follow up. The ‘special audit review’ produced by the Board of Regents never fully explained what happened and how the college could amass an initial $16 million dollar, later turned into $25 million dollar, deficit. GPC is a public institution funded by Georgia taxpayers and student tuition. We have a right to know,” said Mr. Schick, who now attends Georgia State University.

The SPLC, whose mission is to provide legal information and advocacy in support of student journalists, helped Schick bargain down the University System’s initial price quote of $2,963.39. The Board of Regents ultimately acknowledged it could fulfill Mr. Schick’s request for one-tenth of that cost, $291, but when it came time to actually produce the records, University System officials continued to withhold documents, prompting Mr. Schick to file suit.

“What’s going on in Georgia is a microcosm of what’s happening all over the country, with state universities contemptuously defying their public disclosure responsibilities through foot- dragging and astronomical fees,” said attorney Frank D. LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC. “The public has an absolute right to know — while it is going on, not a year later — how one of its colleges ran up a seven-figure budget deficit. This is the 21st century, and emails are searchable and retrievable within a matter of seconds, not months.”

Read the official complaint here.

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Posted in Open Records
10 comments on “Today I sued the University System of Georgia
  1. Ben says:

    Jon,
    Don’t waste your breath.
    The Regents of the University System of Georgia are the most financially and politically influential kingpins of fiefdoms from every corner and backwoods hole of Georgia.
    The Regents own all the legislators. They own the press, the media, the utilities, the law enforcement, the courts, the judges, the oversight agencies, and on and on, throughout the State of Georgia by way of all their contacts, control, and money. They control all the money (state tax dollars) distributed by the State Legislature to all state agencies, not just the University System, and whose pocket it ends up in. Now, what else do you need to know.
    The consequences are so devastating in this debacle that delaying the release of public records is their only tactic right now. Georgia is noted as having the most corrupt government of all 50 states. Look it up, it is well documented.
    Your only hope is that the federal government and its oversight agencies will make a move to prove federal financial aid has been misused, misappropriated, misdirected into auxiliary funds for unrestricted use by GPC financial officers with BOR and USG blessings. The Regents’ power is vastly diluted outside the State of Georgia.
    Incentivizing Georgia taxpayers (whose taxes pay for USG state appropriations) and the parents and students (who pay tuition) to stop tolerating theft of their dollars is the next best tactic after requiring federal agencies to have better oversight of our federal tax dollars.
    Your only hope to take control of the State of Georgia is to; NEVER, EVER, VOTE FOR AN INCUMBENT.

  2. jon says:

    I’m posting here after several attempts to post on Maureen Downey’s Blog on the AJC without success. Millions and millions of taxpayer dollars are missing and no one including the University System is making an effort to find where the money went. I also don’t understand why the University System won’t hand over emails, as the law requires, unless there is something to hide. I wrote to the Governor and numerous legislators about the money and lack of a neutral investigation: no response at all. I don’t understand the cavalier attitude about the abuse of taxpayer’s money and abuse of the law.The state government owes it to the Georgia taxpayers to get to the bottom of this and the AJC and the local new stations ought to help Mr. Schick get to results ……….”

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for this, and hang in there. These people , are corrupt, and by there standard, everyone must be gone. They should fired themselves, promote Dr. Tricolli to solve there problems. He was great for the college system, and brought new ideas. The good old boys from Georgia did not like this. Let us get back to the 60″s where we all got along.(Ha) Well, the same old system works. Screw the outsider, and we can all get along. Dr. Tricolli did nothing wrong, and was a scapegoat for there politics.

    I understand that people make mistakes, but it was not Dr. Tricolli’s mistake. Public record is just that!! Public. What do they have to hide? Thank you David for this article. The main stream media will not pick this up, they are cowards, and in the pockets of these people.

    Let the truth be told, because a lot of the board members will have mud on their face. Liars, are liars. The board knows, after enough lying, the public will believe it. Good old Ga. politics.

    Please let a real commission study this. Dr. tricolli will be exonerated, and the lies will be with the board. Rob Watts included. Dirty rotten politics, get in the way of education. All of these people need to go! What happened to the education of our own?

    Thank you for having the guts to publishing this.
    .

  4. Suck says:

    So, why do you quote yourself and constantly repost this as news? You slept through the journalistic integrity class?

  5. Maeve says:

    There was a 16 million deficit, 7 of which that was handled through cutbacks in that same year. That left 9 million that had to be borrowed from other USG schools in order for GPC’s budget to balance, as required by law. The same 16 million deficit was built into the next year’s budget – and had to be removed – when added to the 9 million loan that had to be paid back, resulted in a 25 million total needed to be cut.

    It wasn’t all deficit. Just acted like it. The 9 is a known fact – GPC owed it to the schools who lent it. Look for the 16 – that’s the mystery…. although not as much as it used to be with the findings about positions, expenses, consultants, etc….. A lot more is known that one might believe from the stories. The fact that the USG released GPC from the budget give-back this year was a sign that the USG believed in the efforts being taken.

    It’s another case of asking that facts be stated clearly, not over-stated in order to make a point. I wish you luck in your legal avenue, I just hope you stay on the main road and avoid the gutter.

  6. toddsign says:

    Thank you David!

  7. Robert says:

    $25 Million is an 8 figure deficit, not 7.

  8. Deavon says:

    Schick, you’re my hero! Fearlessly going against the grain and paving the way for others.

Your thoughts?