Dear Decaturish – Avondale mayor isn’t a kingEd Rieker
Decaturish.com accepts letter to the editor submissions. Letters must be signed and should be 300 to 800 words long. To submit a letter to the editor, email [email protected] This post was updated at 4 pm on May 19 when the author resubmitted a corrected version of his letter.
Letter to the Editor:
Dear Decaturish and its readers:
I have read the letters from both Mayor Ed Rieker of Avondale Estates and City Attorney Robert Wilson of Wilson, Morton, & Downs with great interest, as I am a huge proponent of open government. Georgia’s “Sunshine Laws” are specifically designed to enable transparency in government so that the citizens are fully informed about their elected officials and their actions.
Frankly, the letters from Mayor Rieker and Mr. Wilson bother me. This letter is by no means a legal opinion. That said, I cannot divorce my experience as an attorney from my personal opinion on this matter.
There are several issues that bother me about the letters from Mayor Rieker and Mr. Wilson. While accusing Mr. Whisenhunt of at least the appearance of cyber bullying (if not outright bullying), they are in effect bullying this local news source.
I will break it down:
If anything, the actions of Mayor Rieker and Mr. Wilson could be construed as bullying. they are in the position of power in this situation, not Mr. Whisenhunt. Mr. Whisenhunt, a local reporter, asks questions of public interest. The Mayor of Avondale Estates gets annoyed with said questions, so they stop responding to cordial requests for any information. That forces Mr. Whisenhunt to use another means of gathering the information, and the tool for that is the Open Records Request. Rather than willingly complying with state law, Mr. Rieker and Mr. Wilson are trying to run off Mr. Whisenhunt with specious allegations. If anything, the actions of Mr. Rieker are the ones that are retaliatory in nature.
Including the Senior Assistant Attorney General on the correspondence is ridiculous, and appears to be an attempt to convince a lay-person who is not a lawyer that he may have done something wrong. In fact, all Mr. Whisenhunt has done is use the statutory tools, provided and protected by the State of Georgia, to gather information of interest to the public. That is the purpose of the Sunshine Laws. Using those tools properly is hardly bullying of any sort.
There is a technical point I would like to make regarding some of the information requested from Avondale Estates. Mr. Wilson repeatedly refers to a “document” that was requested, namely one that includes the salaries of the employees of Avondale Estates. What was requested were the documents containing this information. Rather than providing the information as requested, Mr. Wilson is playing a game of semantics. While it is probably true there is no single “document” that contains the information requested, the City of Avondale Estates must have the information or they could not pay their employees. This appears to be nothing but an attempt to dissuade Mr. Whisenhunt from reporting.
As I am sure Mr. Rieker and Mr. Wilson are acutely aware, Mr. Whisenhunt is not guilty of bullying of any sort. That is why they stop short of actually accusing him. Again, using semantics to try and dissuade Mr. Whisenhunt from continuing his reporting.
Regarding asking the community questions about a story of immense public interest, namely the recent Avondale fire, how else are you supposed to get information? That is a reporter’s job — to gather information and report, even if the matter is deeply sad and uncomfortable.
It is also interesting to note that in his letter, Mr. Wilson claims that Mr. Whisenhunt needs to act in a more respectful and professional manner. I think if anyone has been respectful and professional, it has been Mr. Whisenhunt. A mayor is not a king that gets to demand respect – he is elected by the citizenry for the citizenry. He should be respectful to the people. And it is the people’s right as Americans to question the actions of their elected officials. And as for professionalism, is it really professional to shut out a local reporter who was just recently considered an asset to the community, just because you do not like the questions he’s asking?
– William B. Legare Esq.