Sandy Springs is taking the city of Atlanta to court in a dispute about access to documents about the water service. Its complaint filed in Fulton County court alleges Atlanta has violated state open records law by delaying and refusing to provide records first requested in January, which Atlanta denies.
Atlanta operates Sandy Springs’ water system. Sandy Springs has alleged, based on the records it has received, that Atlanta incorrectly uses water system funds and arbitrarily sets rates. Sandy Springs plans to challenge the water rates as part of the city’s ongoing mission to get control of the water system or improve its service.
The city of Atlanta said it has not received a copy of the complaint, but a spokesperson denied it has violated the Open Records Act.
“There has been no violation of the Open Records Act, or any other aspect of the law, for that matter,” city spokesperson Michael Smith said in an email. “This is an attempt to use the judicial system to strong-arm the city of Atlanta into acquiescing to Sandy Springs’ unreasonable demand that Atlanta relinquish ownership of its water system.”
Atlanta has previously disputed Sandy Springs’ underlying claims about the water service.
Atlanta’s handling of other open records requests under former Mayor Kasim Reed has been the subject of a state investigation. Some of those requests were made to the city’s Watershed Department for the water billing records of city officials. The city pledged in October to draft a new records policy following a dispute with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about other requests handled by Reed’s administration, the newspaper reported.
According to the complaint, Sandy Springs city attorney Dan Lee sent notices for months between January and September, only to receive a portion of the records requested. Atlanta officials have said that a cyber attack earlier this year caused delays in fulfilling some requests, the complaint said.
Under the state Service Delivery Strategy Act, cities that receive water service from another city are allowed to ask for rate and surcharge justification, Lee said. Atlanta has not provided that, and the latest rate study provided was done in 2003, Lee said.
Sandy Springs wants to do its own rate study, but has been unable to do so due the lack of records, Lee said.
The complaint, filed in Fulton County Superior Court Nov. 29, asks for a court order compelling Atlanta to complete Sandy Springs’ open records requests, as well as leveling penalties against Atlanta for allegedly violating the Open Records Act.
Sandy Springs also wants mandatory mediation to resolve the water services dispute.
Lee said the city believes the water service problems is a public safety issue.
“The problem Atlanta had last week highlights this,” Lee said, referring to widespread water outage and boil-water advisory in Atlanta caused by a problem at a water treatment plant.
Lee said Atlanta has 30 days from the filing of the complaint to respond, so the next update will likely be in January 2019.