“The proverbial fresh table cloth on the Titanic”

I got a couple of emails yesterday about MaconDawg’s much ado about nothing post regarding SB 323 asking me what I thought about it.  Honestly, some of what he writes strikes me as spot on and some not so much.

For example, he’s got the big picture right.

And so it should not be terribly surprising that the Georgia legislature passed a bill (really an amendment to a bill) which now gives state athletic departments 90 days to acknowledge their receipt of information requests (commonly called Freedom of Information Act or “FOIA” requests) rather than the prior statutory 3 days. Journalists, including journalists with SB Nation, have come out swinging against this. I want to be clear about something right up front: I agree with them. At its heart this new law is designed to keep information hidden from the public for longer. Anyone, whether the bill’s proponents, the Lieutenant Governor, or Kirby Smart who tells you differently is lying right to your face.

But it’s when he turns to explaining a number of reasons why this isn’t as a big deal as it may seem that I have to differ with him.  Start with this:

And here’s where opponents of the new law are missing the boat. Under the existing law in Georgia, and almost every other FOIA law in the nation, there was no firm deadline on how long they had to get me all the documents. Courts have awarded penalties (usually attorney’s fees) in cases where the institution is clearly stonewalling. And a court may make the state show what affirmative steps it has taken to gather and provide the information. But at no time has anyone in the UGA Athletic Association been under a duty to get me all  the information which I seek within 3 days. Never. And there is no firm guidance regarding what information is immediately available.

This law, at least as I read it, doesn’t eliminate university officials’ duty to respond to my request in a reasonably timely manner. It gives them 90 days to tell me they a) don’t have the information I requested, b) need additional information to determine whether they have it, c) won’t be turning it over because they don’t have to (for reasons of student privacy, for example), or d) will get it to me sometime before the Big Bang Theory gets cancelled.

That’s not inaccurate as far as it goes, but then he adds this as a conclusion:  “This new law does not prevent the UGA Athletic Association from obfuscating and buying time. Nor however does it allow them to do so where they couldn’t before.”  Well, except for that whole thing about not even letting the requesting party know whether any information exists in the first place for an additional eighty-seven days, I suppose he’s right.

And this strikes me as somewhat wishful thinking:

… Also bear in mind that there’s nothing in this new law that requires athletic associations to wait 90 days before responding. If I make a fairly simple request for readily available information I’d still expect that the folks in Athens will probably get it to me within a few days, as before.

The issue, it seems to me, won’t be over how simple a request is, or how readily available such information may be.  It’ll be how comfortable the athletic department is about letting the world know it exists when the request is made.  And that is really what lies at the heart and soul of the new law – that some potentially unpleasant matters are time sensitive and don’t have a particularly lengthy shelf life.  Why should we expect Butts-Mehre to respond any sooner than it absolutely has to in such cases?

No, the world isn’t going to end because of SB 323.  And, like MaconDawg, I don’t expect the school to use this new law as an excuse to behave in an egregiously nefarious way.  But if this law is such a benign thing, again, all I can go back to in response is to question the way in which it passed, as I did in this post:

So, ultimately, here’s what you’re being asked to swallow here:

  1. In the midst of recruiting, organizing the program and his very first spring practice preparation, Kirby Smart somehow found the time to show up for a friendly chat with the folks in the Georgia General Assembly.
  2. In the midst of a typically contentious session, members of the Georgia General Assembly found the time to ask what could be done to help the Georgia football program.
  3. Kirby Smart casually mentioned that Nick Saban has an easier time of responding to open records requests but didn’t make a big deal of it, even though he’s described as “the key influence to members of the General Assembly deciding to act”.
  4. Just as casually, Georgia legislators tacked an amendment on to an existing bill that gives Butts-Mehre unprecedented scope in responding to open records requests in the future.
  5. Even though the bill’s scope clearly exceeds the stated nonsensical goal of protecting recruiting secrets, neither Georgia’s athletic director nor its president had anything to do with it.

Georgia wasn’t acting like it was such a small thing when it pushed for this, so why should we believe it’s a small thing now that it exists?

25 Comments

Filed under Georgia Football, Political Wankery

25 responses to ““The proverbial fresh table cloth on the Titanic”

  1. TnDawg

    FOIA extension-the gift that keeps on giving

  2. KershDawg

    When you reference Georgia in your last paragraph, are you talking the school or the legislature?

  3. PTC DAWG

    The first few sentences were fascinating.

  4. Personally, I believe that SB 323 will be used as a model to push extensions of time in Open Records laws in other areas of government. A legislator will point to “how well it is working” and how “no one is complaining about not receiving information”, yada yada yada and then proposes we extend SB 323 to all aspects of the educational system. Eventually expanding it to all forms of government.

    • Dylan Dreyer's Booty

      ” …I believe that SB 323 will be used as a model to push extensions of time in Open Records laws in other areas of government.
      That is the only thing that makes this bill a possible threat into the future. I am archiving the Senator’s posts to cut and paste into letters to my legislators if that happens. But in the meantime:

  5. W Cobb Dawg

    Has anyone bothered to examine the reasons this came about? I see it as the absolutely terrible PR skills of McG, and the ajc’s long history of taking any issue and twisting it to reflect negatively on the program.

    It doesn’t seem like anyone at UGA is going to do anything about McG’s lousy PR skills. And the media simply won’t police themselves. Look at all the shit we had to hear because condoms were in Ludacris’s contract. You call that ‘news’? Seems anything is fair game as long as it reflects poorly on UGA.

    Can’t say I entirely blame Kirby for wanting to return some level of rationality to the media situation. I’m not sure any other institution in the state, including government at all levels, has to deal with this kind of shit on a daily basis like UGA has had to endure.

    It’s a huge distraction. And for what? So Kirby can weigh in on the media spotlight over a pack of condoms? Much of ‘the news’ is farce.

    Having said all that, I don’t support the law. But ‘something’ had to be done.

    • Dog in Fla

      That wasn’t right. It was a bad deal. And it will forever be in the mind of fleet commander Kirby and in the mind of our salvage team … so we’ll handle it. And it’s going to be a big deal.

  6. Derek

    I still say that Kirby answered a question with a benign, generic answer and that the pols decided that they were going to publically bandwagon it because that’s what those guys do. I don’t think Kirby cared much about it then and doesn’t care much about it now.

    In short, this is about the transparent need for pols to ingratiate themselves to the populace in a very non-substantive matter. They want to them take credit for the coming success because they “had the program’s back.” That’s what the “I hope it gets a national championship” bs is all about. Do we really expect Kirby or Greg or the university president to call them out on their bs? Hell no! Those are some powerful people. Can’t do it.

    If you take all of this and the releasing of the Ludacris condom contract rider immediately what makes the most sense? That there was a knowing conspiracy to really gain some advantage in terms of disclosure or that politicians are what we know they are?

    There’s a story here, but it ain’t a sports story. It’s a routine run of the mill political story.

    • If you take all of this and the releasing of the Ludacris condom contract rider immediately what makes the most sense? That there was a knowing conspiracy to really gain some advantage in terms of disclosure or that politicians are what we know they are?

      Why, both, of course.

      McGarity had Smart lobby the legislature. The pols fell all over themselves to help.

      • Derek

        How do you know that Greg had Kirby bring that up? How do we know it just wasn’t a random thing that came to his mind that there was a difference between the two states? Is it possible he asked: hey how long do we have to respond over here under the law? Answer: 3 days. Really, we had longer than that in Alabama. Then the convo with the pols happened and that’s what he could think of without necessarily caring one way or another. I just don’t see any reason to believe that Kirby or Greg are that invested in this issue.

        • What, you don’t take Kirby’s word that he shouldn’t get the credit for it?

          Again, look at the law and see who it’s designed to benefit. That will tell you who came up with the idea.

          • Derek

            I don’t dispute the history. We know Kirby mentioned it. I just dispute that it was a big issue for either Greg or Kirby.

            Assuming that either of them thought it was important and well founded change, why would they be so sheepish about it? You’d think they’d want to pay the pols on the back a little. I know that they couldn’t piss on their legs, but why the hesitation to fully endorse it as important? It’s not as if they couldn’t make a case for it. I know that you think these guys suck at PR and there’s a million reasons to agree, but if this were really a matter where the truth would be an embarrassment, why would they have gotten this right? Broken clock?

            I mean if it really was as cloak and dagger as you’re suggesting, this is the first time they’ve ever handled PR well. You’re instinct if you’re trying to get away with something would be to defend. The right answer would be to shut up.

            If you’re somewhat embarrassed about what they did with the suggestion, the instinct would be to shut up whereas the right answer might be to say a little more in case you need these same guys for a favor later.

            Anyway it doesn’t add up for me. I get the desire for transparency. I’m all for that. I just can’t get to a point where I can put this on Kirby or Greg as something that they really lobbied strongly for. I think this is 99% on the pols.

            • I mean if it really was as cloak and dagger as you’re suggesting, this is the first time they’ve ever handled PR well.

              LMAO. The only reason you could believe that is because McGarity has set such a low bar in that department.

              Let me give you a hint: “Kirby’s Law” isn’t meant as a compliment. Nor is it taken as one by the man whose name appears there.

              • Derek

                Not “only” but certainly “a” reason. For your theory to be correct, they’d played this is in the press just right. Does that sound like our athletic department?

                I also think your suggesting that Greg wanted this and set Kirby up so that he’d get the “credit.” Again, all of this smacks of a competence we both know isn’t present.

                My main reason for doubting that the AD was pushing for this in a major way is because of how unimportant it really is and I know how self-serving politicians are. The additional arguments are just that: additional.

                • They didn’t play it in the press “just right”. They’ve been excoriated by the media, both local and national. They just don’t give a shit.

                  I’m not saying McGarity set Smart up. He directed Kirby to use his goodwill to promote the athletic department’s interests. And that’s what Kirby did.

                  • Derek

                    Another reason that I don’t think that they asked for this or thought it through. I think he just mentioned it kind of off hand pretty much like he’s said. I don’t think it was ever important to anyone at Georgia.

                    As far as how they’ve handled it, if this was as you suggest it was, it’s hard to imagine them handling it any better. Assuming that they really, really, pretty please wanted this, how could they have done better? I think silence from the media is somewhat unattainable given the subject matter.

                    They haven’t defended it. They’ve pretty much sold the story that it’s on the pols. Most people don’t care or buy the story. (Cover story I guess is how you’d frame it.) How could they have done worse? Again, I don’t think that they asked for any of it, but had they, how could they have done better? The fact that it really would be well played if they were playing, I think we can infer a good possibility that they never were playing. Had they been playing, they’d probably have fucked it all up. That’s their m.o. It’s not proof and it’s not the best argument but it’s an argument that points to the conclusion that Kirby did what he’s said he did: he made an innocent off hand comment off the top of his head and pols used it to get their names in press as if they were gonna help win a trophy. Maybe I’m gullible but it’s the most plausible truth as far as I can see.

                  • Tim In Sav

                    He “directed him” are you really sure of that Senator?

  7. Debby Balcer

    For all the complaints about Ludacris’ rider I have seen more talk of it here than anywhere. I think it was more embarrassing to Luda than UGA. McGarity wants the law to CYA.

  8. AusDawg85

    I haven’t seen QBR’s from G-Day yet. Coincidence? I think not!

  9. Nashville West

    For what it’s worth, California allows 10 days for a response. The response merely says whether or not the agency will object to the production request. The agency then has to product the documents within a “reasonable” amount of time. What is “reasonable” will differ depending on the size of the request and the type of documents requested. Whether the delay was “reasonable” will usually be determined at the ensuing writ hearing.

    I have no idea whether this places Cal and UCLA at a competitive disadvantage to Stanford and USC in recruiting wars. Based on recent records perhaps it does.

  10. I believe all legislators would love to have a 90 day response on everything. Over here in Alabama, most every major politician would love it big time. As someone above stated, I see this eventually being the norm for all legislatorrs and government officials. For UGA AD, a great way to defer and stay out of the spotlight, which he is not fond of being in. Also, his bosses puĺl the puppet strings as they wish.