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Avondale Estates mayor claims “cyber bullying”

Annexation, new cities Avondale Estates

Avondale Estates mayor claims “cyber bullying”

Ed Rieker
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Mayor Ed Rieker

Mayor Ed Rieker

Avondale Estates Mayor Ed Rieker sent out a letter to residents today accusing Decaturish.com of “cyber bullying” the city’s elected officials, employees and residents.

The letter contains many allegations regarding coverage of city government and a fire that occurred on April 12.

“Unfortunately he has recently been engaged in tactics that may be, or border on, cyber bullying in an attempt to extract information from residents, elected officials and city staff in order to produce content for his website,” Rieker wrote.

In his letter, Rieker writes, “Several weeks ago, after a tragic incident occurred in the City, this blogger repeatedly contacted certain residents to persistently push them to give him personal details regarding the event and the aftermath. It was disappointing behavior to say the least and outside the norms for our community.”

Rieker’s statement follows a letter sent by Avondale Estates attorneys on May 16 in response to open records requests.

The statement from Attorney Robert Wilson reads in part:

“Please be advised that the City of Avondale Estates is committed to open government and faithfully complies with the letter and the spirit of Georgia’s Open Records Act in all respects. The City takes exception to your implication that the City withheld some public document from you. Please know that your participation in a local news blog does not afford you any special rights or privileges beyond those enjoyed by all citizens of Avondale Estates and the State of Georgia. The Mayor and City Manager are under no obligation to have conversations with you and/or answer your questions. However, they have attempted to address your questions and will continue to do so if approached in a respectful manner and at an appropriate time.”

As editor of Decaturish, I would like to briefly respond to claims in both letters.

Rieker’s claims about contacting certain residents to “push” them to give “personal details” about the April 12 are simply incorrect. Most of the information contained in Decaturish.com’s coverage comes via public records, including official reports obtained from DeKalb Fire and Rescue and the Avondale Estates Police Department. There were two conversations with people who set up a “Go Fund Me” account on behalf of the family, but those individuals declined to comment. Additionally, a representative from the family also declined to comment. That was the extent of the inquiry.

The letter from Wilson suggests that Rieker and Brown have attempted to respond to questions. Rieker has not responded to our questions since April 15. Since that time, he has not returned messages or phone calls about numerous stories involving routine issues like the city’s plans for annexation. City Communications Manager Kelly Brooks has said she is not allowed to talk to the media, and has said all responses must come from Rieker.

Records requests are the only means of obtaining information about the city, aside from the email newsletters published by the communications manager.

My goal is, and continues to be, to inform Avondale Estates residents about the functions of its government and hold elected officials accountable for their actions.  I do not intend to stop asking questions or covering the city of Avondale Estates.

Here are the letters from Rieker and the city’s attorney. I will let Decaturish.com’s coverage speak for itself.

Response to Recent Behavior by Blogging Site

Neighbors,

Please find below a copy of a letter from our City Attorney to the owner of a local blogging site in reference to recent behavior by the owner. Unfortunately he has recently been engaged in tactics that may be, or border on, cyber bullying in an attempt to extract information from residents, elected officials and city staff in order to produce content for his website.

Several weeks ago, after a tragic incident occurred in the City, this blogger repeatedly contacted certain residents to persistently push them to give him personal details regarding the event and the aftermath. It was disappointing behavior to say the least and outside the norms for our community.

Due to this blogger’s distasteful conduct we stopped responding to his requests for comments several weeks ago. As a result this blogger has recently initiated several Open Records Requests. Some of them are of a highly personal nature regarding residents and City employees.

I believe that the Open Records laws should not be used in a retaliatory manner. The City has and will continue its tradition of open government, complying with all laws and providing access to public records for inspection. However, as long as this distasteful behavior continues the City will decline to prioritize this blogger, and his requests for personalized content, over all of the other ongoing business of the City.

Due to the public nature of this issue we felt it important to relay this information, along with a copy of the letter from the City Attorney.

Respectfully,
Ed
Ed Rieker
Mayor, City of Avondale Estates

Click here to view a PDF of the
City Attorney’s letter online

May 16, 2014

Re: City of Avondale Estates and the Open Records Act

Dear Mr. Whisenhunt:

This correspondence is in response to your email to the City of Avondale Estates’ City Clerk dated May 12, 2014 and your email to the City’s Communications Manager dated May 13, 2014. In your emails you indicate that you intend to complain to the Attorney General regarding “how the Open Records Act is being used in the City of Avondale Estates.” You also indicate that you would prefer not to go through the formality of an Open Records Request and that you believe City officials should answer your questions at your convenience.

Please be advised that the City of Avondale Estates is committed to open government and faithfully complies with the letter and the spirit of Georgia’s Open Records Act in all respects. The City takes exception to your implication that the City withheld some public document from you.

Please know that your participation in a local news blog does not afford you any special rights or privileges beyond those enjoyed by all citizens of Avondale Estates and the State of Georgia. The Mayor and City Manager are under no obligation to have conversations with you and/or answer your questions. However, they have attempted to address your questions and will continue to do so if approached in a respectful manner and at an appropriate time.

Furthermore, I believe that if you speak with citizens of Avondale Estates you will find both Mayor Rieker and Mr. Brown are known for being incredibly open and candid with the City’s citizens. Perhaps you would find these gentlemen to be more forthcoming with you if you make an effort to treat them with the respect that they deserve rather than taking the unprofessional tone observed in your communications with City officials.

Very truly yours,

WILSON, MORTON & DOWNS, LLC

Robert E. Wilson
City Attorney, City of Avondale Estates

SGQ:rmh

Cc:
Stefan Ritter, Senior Assistant Attorney General
Mayor Ed Rieker
Clai Brown, City Manager
Stephen G. Quinn, Esq.

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