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Investigation report shows Forsyth commissioner skirted Open Records protocols

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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — An external investigation into Forsyth County Commissioner Todd Levent shows the District 3 representative circumvented Open Records Act protocols to obtain email lists and information from another commissioner without her knowledge.

In a 200-page report obtained by the Herald, investigators suggest inconclusively that Levent could have been acting on behalf of a candidate looking to unseat District 4 County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills. 

Although the independent investigators could not reach a “definite conclusion” that Levent was assisting the campaign of Brandy Bevis — partly because neither Levent nor Bevis were formally questioned — the report does show Levent circumventing regular county practices for obtaining records through the Open Records Act. In one instance, Levent told an assistant that he did not have to go through the Open Records procedure because he was a commissioner.

All four of the other commissioners interviewed during the investigation said no such right exists.

The report cites two instances when Levent, who represents District 3, accessed emails and records of Commissioner Mills without her knowledge and without using an Open Records Request.

The first instance occurred in early March when Levent instructed Assistant to the Board of Commissioners Carol Balcome Haag to retrieve an email from Mills’ county email account. The email contained a comment Mills had made about a Georgia DOT employee, labeling him “a liar.”

Haag told investigators she discovered the email, printed it out and placed it face down in Levent’s commission office. She said she did not mention the incident to Mills.

The second instance involved a telephone request from Levent to Haag seeking emails between Mills and a constituent in her district, Lynn Rashbaum. Haag said she asked Levent whether the communications should be obtained through an Open Records Request, but, she said, Levent told her that, as a county commissioner, he had access.

Haag found nine emails matching Levent’s request and sent them to him on April 16. A day later, the investigation found, Levent forwarded the nine county-generated emails to his personal campaign email address. Forsyth County Chief Information Officer Brandon Kenney told investigators it was not uncommon for Levent to forward emails from his county email address to one of “several” private email addresses belonging to him.

The investigative team also cited a third instance in which Levent had secured a spreadsheet of email and contact information for those who attended and some who commented at a December 2018 town hall on a proposed wastewater treatment facility. The proposed plant lies in District 4, Mill’s district.

Investigators said there was nothing wrong in Levent requesting the list but sending it to his campaign email address within 17 minutes of receiving the spreadsheet “raises questions about what he did with it.”

Investigators explored the possibility that Levent had been supplying the information to the Brandy Bevis campaign, one of Mills’ opponents in the June 9 primary.

The investigative team could not secure an interview with Bevis, who declined to appear without a subpoena. Nor were they successful in lining up an interview with Levent due to scheduling difficulties with his attorney.

One of the emails Levent obtained in the exchange between Jones Mills and Rashbaum included language Jones Mills wanted to add to the agenda of a 2018 commissioners’ meeting. That same language was placed on flyers for Bevis’ campaign distributed around May 7. Investigators conceded that the language on the flyer also matched that found on the Board of Commissioners agenda.

One man included on the email chain, Bo Slaughter, received an email from Bevis containing the flyer, which gave the wrong location for the proposed plant. Slaughter said he later called Mills Jones to complain he was being “bombarded” by those opposed to the treatment plant.

According to the investigation report, Jones Mills suspected Levent had provided Bevis with the list of those attending the 2018 town hall, and that is how Bevis obtained Slaughter’s email address.

On April 30, Slaughter said he received a call from Levent about the facility and the June 9 election. The call lasted about 15 minutes, and Levent urged Slaughter to not vote for Jones Mills.

In their summary, investigators said if Levent had used the Open Records Acts regulations, Jones Mills would have been aware of his request for copies of her emails. It also states that personal identifiers would have been redacted, and an official request would have maintained a record of the request.

The report also states that Levent sending the list of town hall attendees to his personal email and his request that Slaughter not vote for Jones Mills “all point to a conclusion that none of the information Levent obtained via Ms. Haag was used for county businesses.”

“Rather, the timing and sequence of these events suggests that it was used in the Bevis campaign against Commissioner Mills,” the report continued. “However, without the benefit of interviews with either Commissioner Levent or Ms. Bevis, and without the ability to subpoena documents or testimony, this investigation was unable to reach a definite conclusion.”

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