METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — Forsyth County has launched an investigation into an incident in which a member of the county commission allegedly secured electronic information, including emails, from another commissioner without their knowledge.

In a 5-0 vote Thursday evening, the Board of Commissioners agreed to hire an outside counsel to lead the probe. Thursday’s discussion did not include the names of the commissioners involved in the incident.

Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson said she recently learned of the incident in which email, email addresses and possibly other information relating to one commissioner had been requested and turned over to another commissioner. The incident occurred, she said, without the recipient of the information going through the normal Open Records Request protocols.

Some of the information released, Semanson said, included private email addresses that would have been redacted in the normal Open Records process before the documents were released.

“We would like to get to the bottom of that and find out what that potential breach of information included, how it occurred — if it did in fact occur — and what was done with the information,” Semanson said.  

The commissioners approved $20,000 in funding for the investigation.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said he could not participate in the investigation because of a conflict of interest.

“I am conflicted,” he said. “I represent each one of you, and therefore, I will not be able to participate in this.”

Earlier in the same meeting, commissioners approved a policy clearly stating that any elected county official or county employee who seeks to review the records or communication of an elected county official is required to follow protocols laid out in the Open Records Act. Once the request has been made, the policy reads, to do so, and upon receipt of the Open Records Act Request, the official whose records are being sought shall be promptly notified.

During discussion of the item, Commissioner Molly Cooper asked the county attorney whether it constituted a crime for an elected official to circumvent the Open Records Act to obtain information.

Jarrard said he could not provide a clear answer to the question.

“I will say that this policy speaks to law with respect to getting communications, even if they’re public documents, that involve board members,” he said. “This is the policy that this county has adhered to and will adhere to in the future.”

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