Georgia's Legislature and the Legend of the Blank Check

By Johnny Ginter on April 1, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Last week, I wrote about the changes that the Georgia state legislature are attempting to make to that sate's Sunshine Laws, which govern how much time that government agencies have to respond to requests for publicly available information. At the time, I tried to be as charitable as possible when it came to saying, in essence, Hey guys, the Georgia state legislature is colluding with a football coach to restrict public access to information for the purpose of helping them win football games. Instead I wrote Georgia head coach Kirby Smart - or any other coach or administrator subject to these kinds of information requests - would now have three months to get ahead of or even possibly subvert an investigation into whatever story might be related to those records.

Oh man! That'd be horrible if this well-intentioned law was used to such nefarious ends! No wait! What I meant to type is that it'd be great, because that's exactly how it's supposed to function and why Georgia's legislature voted for it!

Sometimes I think it's kind of cool and/or funny when state or local government gets involved in a generally frivolous way with college sports. One of the most famous examples from Ohio is when a recount for a closely contested congressional race was delayed so election workers could watch the 2006 Michigan game. It was dumb, but a fun kind of dumb that didn't necessarily make me consider some kind of weird Manchurian Candidate type thing with Jim Tressel.

But now I am, kind of, because Georgia's state congress has now forced me to view every state law through the lens of How does this bill about farm runoff help Urban Meyer screw over Jim Harbaugh?

Here's the actual text of Senate Bill 323, which, in its amended form, reads in part that

Any other provision of this Code section to the contrary notwithstanding, the period within which any production, access, response, or notice is required from an agency with respect to a request for records, other than salary information for nonclerical staff, of intercollegiate sports programs of any unit of the University System of Georgia, including athletic departments and related private athletic associations, shall be 90 business days from the date the agency received the request."

The translated version of this is that "Nick Saban is the literal Devil and with the power vested in us by the people of the great state of Georgia we will smite him down with the fury of a thousand suns by making it so that Kirby Smart has three months to stall almost all information requests."

Kirby Smart has been somewhat coy about his involvement in the bill, possibly because he recognizes that a college coach cozying up the state lawmakers and getting what he asks for, no questions asked, looks... bad. He played up the aw shucks guys, I'm just a humble ol' football coach trying to make in this workaday world angle at a press conference, saying

“First of all, I shouldn’t get any credit for that,” Smart said. “When I went over to the Capitol, I was asked what’s the difference in our program and some programs I’ve been at in the past. ... That was the extent of my conversation with those guys about that. So for me to get the credit for that is a little bit misleading.”

No, no, no, you lil scamp! Take a bow, you've successfully entered the highly lucrative world of lobbying, and not only that, it was so unbelievably easy for you to get what you wanted that you're actually embarrassed about it. That's really cute and extremely disconcerting if you care at all about transparency in politics, but still: cute!

Kind of like a newborn puppy, all blind and disoriented, looking for its mother to get that first drink of milk to make it big and strong. And for the purposes of this analogy, the milk is congressional largesse and the doomed runt of the litter is the fourth estate.

"I hope it brings us a national championship," [Lt. Governor] Cagle said. "That's what I hope."– The Telegraph, Macon Georgia

What's funny is that the Georgia legislature has basically zero compunction about admitting SB 323 is all about kicking the Crimson Tide's ass on the football field.


"...What? No really, what? Ahhh screw you guys." Rep. Earl Earhart didn't say but probably thought really loudly after stating the above to 11Alive News in Atlanta.

For the purposes of this story, I've talked to several people involved in the execution of FOIA requests, and the common reaction that I've gotten from them is basically a shrug and a Yeah that blows, but 90 days isn't forever, if something is up it'll eventually come out, which is a little irritating because I was really hoping they'd be as mad about this as I and other people are.

Since they're not, I realized that it was important for me to explain why delaying information requests is an issue, and my response to their general apathy about this issue can be summed up in one word: inertia.

The problem with reporting on big stories is that they often die if not cultivated properly, kind of like the world's most boring garden that occasionally gives fruit to NCAA violations. Breaks and pauses during an investigation makes it harder for future reporting on those subjects to be conducted, because personal accounts of stories can change based on internal of external factors. Speed and a forward momentum are necessary to make sure that a story doesn't fall apart.

Remember Anita Wadhwani, bane of Volunteer fans everywhere? She just wrote a report about Tennessee Coach Butch Jones' phone calls (h/t Blutarsky) after an alleged sexual assault involving one of his players, the timing of which seem to corroborate a version of events that paints him in a very negative light.

Vol fans are pissed, questioning why she'd continue with her witch hunt into the activities of soon-to-be-canonized Butch Jones, beautiful human being that he is. Some might even advocate for a Georgia or Alabama-style law about collegiate information requests (Alabama doesn't even place a deadline on responses).

And that's exactly why the proposed Georgia law is so egregious. It may be intended to hide recruiting activities, which, okay, sounds pretty bad already, but the practical effect is that it could kill legitimate reporting on serious or even criminal issues within an athletic program in the name of keeping up with the competition. Even better, it gives the athletic departments of Georgia universities more time to respond to information requests than the National Security Agency generally requires.

If fans have ever trusted in any media outlet, including Eleven Warriors, to deliver honest news about their favorite college sports, then they need to stand up for our ability to get that information.

Because as sexy a lobbyist as Kirby Smart might be (what with his sassy golf visor and rapidly thinning 'Bama bangs), your voice as voters is even sexier.

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