Georgia Perimeter, and How To Thwart an Open Records Request

Intrepid student journalist David Schick earned some attention last month after launching a lawsuit against the University System of Georgia Board of Regents over open records access. Schick, a Georgia Perimeter College student and Army veteran was editing the school paper The Collegian, and wanted to learn more about how the school could suddenly develop a $25 million budget shortfall.

The school’s response to his open records requests had been sadly predictable — stonewalling while conducting an internal “investigation” and a demand of $2,963.39 to receive the records, a cost Schick debunked after presenting a sworn affidavit from a data-management expert showing, essentially, that all the school’s IT folks needed to do was a keyword search on a database and zip up the files for emailing.

Yesterday, Schick’s blog aired a bit of the back-room scuttlebutt kicked up by his attempts to penetrate the administrative morass. This tidbit emerges:

“Email from anonymous GPC employee:

I am concerned that our current Interim President has given our vice president’s a directive to do something that is illegal.
He has told them that GPC will no longer be retaining email records beyond one week!  This will make our jobs increasingly more difficult.  But beyond this, I, and several others believe his directive to the vice presidents in actually illegal.  And we believe he is up to no good again.
We have searched for information supporting our belief, and have found the attached document.  In reading this policy, it is very clear to us that Mr. Watts will be breaking the law and the policy of the BOR.  This action also appears to be intentional, and may support the thoughts of many of us that he is trying to either hide something or cover up something that may have something to do with you.
Is there anything, that you can do to help us?”
Well, that’s one way to keep those pesky news reporters from poking around: destroy government records, Nixon-style. Schick notes that he relayed this information to his lawyer, who emailed Sam Olens’ office, which apparently has sent out a “non-spoliation letter” to both the USG and GPC in response.But that’s what things have come to.
The lengthy post is a head-clearing exercise for Schick — a dump containing all of his suppositions and the snatches of semi-connected data, esoteric technical and financial documentation, and his assessment of the whispered conversations by people worried about being one of the next ones canned after the purge of 282 employees that set Schick off in the first place.
Schick is laying his suspicions bare: that GPC used a process to manage its reserve funds in a way that kept excesses from being moved into the USG budget. Schick strikes parallels between GPC’s apparent activities and those that ultimately triggered an audit of the Georgia Tech P-card program — a scandal that ended up with some Georgia Tech employees in jail in 2008. And the fact that the same senior leaders who were blamed for the financial shortfall at GPC have somehow managed to land other senior jobs in the USG system and recommendations for leadership positions outside of it raises major questions in his mind about the system’s intentions. Schick is calling for an outside accountant to do a forensic analysis of the school’s funds.
Meanwhile, he’s writing for USA Today as a student journalist these days while continuing to fight the good fight at GPC, and is working with a team of young, photogenic, highly-interesting student editors from other University System of Georgia system schools to put together a team publication about the inner workings of public higher education in Georgia.
Read the whole post, The Theory of GPC, on his blog, reportshick.com.

2 comments

  1. Jane says:

    I was part time at GPC for 17 years. Good School, good kids, but the administration is no more skilled then the average Dekalb County High School. The root problem IMHO is that the school took in more kids without regard of the ability to teach the increased enrollment. So, they started taking a loss on every new kid that started classes. As the numbers increased, the non financial numbers looked good, but the books had to be either cooked or ignored in order to hide the financial problems.

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