A Roswell resident is right at the heart of questions involving government transparency issues in Forsyth County.
The media coverage involving Cumming Mayor H. Ford Gravitt following an incident that occurred during a city council meeting on April 17 has been, to say the least, explosive.
The event caught on video by Roswell resident Nydia Tisdale shows Mayor Gravitt beginning the meeting, but first ordering Tisdale to turn off her video camera.
"First of all, a little house cleaning," Gravitt says on the video. "Chief Tatum , if you would remove the camera from the auditorium. We don't allow filming inside the city hall here."
What followed was a brief protest by Tisdale stating her right to record the meeting. She did comply with the mayor, however, and turned her recorder off. She also remained at the meeting.
The video footage has captured the attention of Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens following a complaint filed by Tisdale.
The AG's office is investigating whether Gravitt violated Georgia's Open Meetings Act, which allows video recording of public meetings.
Daryl Robinson, counsel to the attorney general, told Cumming Patch a letter was sent to Dana Miles, city attorney on Friday, April 20 [see copy of letter above right].
As of this writing, two phone calls to Miles' office have not been returned.
According to Georgia law, the attorney general has the discretionary authority to enforce the Open Records and Open Meetings Acts. The attorney general also has the authority to bring both civil and criminal actions, and may seek fines of $1,000 for a first violation of the law and $2,500 for each additional violation within a one-year period.
Robinson said the city attorney has until this Friday, April 27, to respond to the attorney general on the matter.
He also said it was premature to speculate on what could happen next.
"Any number of things can happen, from nothing to the maximum penalty if there's a violation, and anything in between" he said.
When asked about Tisdale's video as evidence of a potential violation, Robinson said, "Until we get a response to what we have requested directly to us, not what we have seen in the media, not what other people have reported to us, but until we get direct responses we're not going to go any further until we've given an opportunity for input for all parties concerned, including the complaining party," he said. "And then we'll assess everything that comes in and make a determination at that time."
Tisdale, who was attending her first city council meeting last Tuesday, was there to follow the .
Tisdale, who lives in Roswell, owns and operates a Web site called About Forsyth.
She's been interested in Forsyth County politics and makes a point to stay informed by commuting two to three times a week to attend and video record various government meetings.
She told Cumming Patch her interest with the county began several years ago when she worked as a land manager for a property owner in Forsyth.
From that experience, Tisdale said she became known around town for her attendance at the public meetings regarding a zoning application. Before long she was getting phone calls from other people looking for direction with their own zoning issues.
"People would call and say what do I do?" she said. "And so I would share with them my knowledge of the process, because others helped me when I was fighting my own zoning next door [in Roswell]."
Tisdale says she's active with Smart Growth Forsyth County.
According to its Web site, Smart Growth Forsyth County is a volunteer-only organization that supports and guides citizens when they are concerned about re-zoning and conservation issues.
"That's how I stayed involved in this process and being aware of other meetings," she said.
While many have labeled her a political activist, Tisdale calls herself a "concerned citizen."
She said the incident last week, "is the beginning of the end of an era. This event is putting Cumming on the map across the country."
It was an event she described as "unfortunate."
"Believe me that was not my intent," Tisdale said. "I just wanted to film a water contract meeting."