TYBEE ISLAND, GA (WTOC) - Tybee Island City officials are investigating whether members of the Community Resource Committee may have violated open records laws.
This all started with council woman Wanda Doyle making an open records request in July for all the emails between committee members dealing with Tybee's proposed plastic bag ban ordinance.
But according to the city attorney, not all committee members offered up their emails. A violation of state law.
At last week's Tybee Island City Council meeting, City Attorney Bubba Hughes submitted a resolution to the council that allows for the investigation.
In one committee member's email to City Clerk Jan LeViner in response to the open records request, he said he searched his records and found "no communications pertaining to the plastic bag ordinance". But council woman Doyle says that's simply not possible.
"How is it feasible that they did all that they did and they didn't have any discussion on this plastic bag ban. It doesn't add up to me," said Doyle.
Another committee member simply refused to comply with the request altogether.
"I am not sending anything," he writes.
But the committee's chairwoman, Kathryn Propst, said at last week's council meeting that she did submit emails on behalf of the committee.
"Some members of the CRC did not agree with the city attorney's opinion as is their prerogative, but let me be clear in stating that we did our due diligence and I forwarded the correspondence we had on this matter," said Propst.
In a string of committee emails leaked to WTOC by a confidential source, there's apparent discussion among committee members about how to avoid the Freedom of Information Act request.
Some members argued those emails are private and not subject to open records requests since they were sent using private email accounts.
That is not the way the city attorney sees it. And he made that clear at Tybee City Council.
"Anybody that you all designate to act on behalf of the city, in my opinion, is subject to the Open Records Request," said City Attorney Bubba Hughes.
He also made that very clear to those same committee members shortly after Doyle's request was submitted, that "emails, even on private computers" are subject to open records laws.
But, the committee's chairwoman addressed council last week saying members of the committee were never told about the requirements of the Open Records Act.
"Members do not receive training on our responsibilities. The committee has no authority on city matters. The CRC webpage states that our meetings our subject to Georgia's open meeting act, but never until this request were we informed that we should keep our email records or that we should be subject to open records requests," said Propst.
But Hughes said they are still subject to the law and the investigation is warranted.
"The law requires that a response be made, and that's what I advised. And it appears that the act may not have been complied with," said Hughes.
Truth is, ignorance of the law is not an excuse to break it, if in fact that is what's happened here.
The committee has been temporarily suspended, meaning they can't conduct any official business or hold meetings. That suspension is in effect until the investigation is complete.