Hartwell DDA Being Investigated by State Attorney General

December 12, 2013

By MJ Kneiser, WLHR Radio, Lavonia


The Georgia State Attorney General’s office is investigating the Hartwell Downtown Development Authority for possible violations of the Georgia Sunshine Law.

On Tuesday, former Hartwell DDA Executive Director Mitch Skelton confirmed he filed a complaint with the State last week.

“Yes, I did and I immediately got a response from the Senior Assistant Attorney General who said, yes, it looked like there had been a violation of the state’s Open Records Act,” Skelton said. “They have since sent a letter alerting the city and the DDA that they are investigating.”

Skelton, who was fired from his job with the DDA in mid-November, said in his complaint to the State that his firing was a violation of the Georgia Open Records Act because it was done in a closed session.

In a letter to Hartwell City attorney Robert Leverett, Senior Assistant Attorney General Steffan Ritter said his office is investigating Skelton’s allegations.

Ritter said under Georgia law, a board may not meet privately with an employee and under the Georgia Open Records Act, a board may not terminate an employee in a closed meeting. (O.C.G.A. 50-14-5 (a), 50-18-73(a)).

Shortly thereafter, Fraley announced the appointment of DDA board member Henley Cleary as the Interim DDA Executive Director.

Fraley said he has not seen the letter from the State Attorney General’s office and has no comment.

According to Susan Kane, spokesperson for the Georgia State Attorney General’s office, matters such as these are handled by their Government Mediation Program, which Ritter heads.

“We basically try to mitigate the disagreement so that if the citizen has not gotten the records that they believe they are entitled to, that they get their records,” she said. “If there was violation of the Open Meetings Act, then we talk to the government (involved) and we explain to them the situation so that it won’t happen again.  If it’s a really egregious situation, then we may be forced to take legal action.”

But Skelton is also questioning why the City attorney is representing the Downtown Development Authority.

This morning, Skelton issued a statement saying he has also filed a formal complaint with the City.