Government Meetings and Records Are Open

By JOSEPH PIEPER

KENNESAW, Ga. — It’s up to elected officials to prove they can meet in secret legally, not for the public to prove those meetings are illegal, Cobb County citizens were told at a Government Transparency Workshop at Kennesaw State University.

“Everything is open unless there is an exception,” said Jim Zachery, editor of the Valdosta Daily Times. “So, the presumption in Georgia law is that it’s always open. The strong public policy of the state of Georgia is open government.

“So that there has to be an exception that allows them to go back there behind closed doors, there has to be an exception that allows them to have those executive sessions and they have to be able to cite the legal exception. You don’t have to prove that something should be open, they have to prove that it can be closed.”

Zachery, a member of the board for the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, and fellow board member Ken Foskett, investigations editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, conducted the workshop Monday night at KSU. It was sponsored by the foundation and KSU’s campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

They spoke about how to use Georgia’s open meetings and open record laws to learn what is happening inside your local and state governments. They explained how to: access public records for information on operations, attend public meetings where elected officials make decisions that affect the public and challenge public officials when they don’t comply with open government laws.

Zachery said not everyone is aware that the burden of proof is on the government to show that meetings should be closed or records denied.  In fact, he added, Georgia is one of the few states in the United States that imposes a real penalty for violating the open government acts.

“In most states the penalty for violating the act is exactly like this [makes shame on you finger gesture],” Zachery said. “In Georgia first violation can cost you $1,000, the second violation in the same twelve-month period can cost you $25,000 as can subsequent violations and they can be concurrent.”

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Ken Foskett, left, and Jim Zachery, right, are conducting a government transparency workshop at Kennesaw State University. (Photo by Joseph Pieper)

And there are only a few exceptions that the government can make to deny public access to a meeting or minutes.

“There are largely three exceptions. There a few more exceptions codified throughout the law, but we usually sort of broad stroke that by saying that it’s personnel, litigation and real estate,” Zachery said. “It’s important that you know that the law is much more specific than those three things.

“So that not all personnel (issues) can be talked about in executive session, not all things that are called litigation can be talked about in executive session and not all real estate can be talked about in executive session.”

This means the government can only use these three areas as exceptions if it does not pertain to public policy. If it involves public policy then that means it’s the public’s business and it is supposed to be open to them.

“Records are public because they belong to you, because government officials are doing your business,” Foskett said. “So, what they put in documents, what they keep in their cabinet files belongs equally to you as it does to them.”

Zachery said that some of the best advice he could give when dealing with record custodians and elected officials is to be nice and reasonable.

“You don’t need to go in pounding on desk and demanding and saying the word pursuant,” Zachary said. “Saying somebody’s name, being polite—saying please, saying thank you.

“And you know what all record custodians have in common and all elected officials have in common? They’re human beings and you treat them bad and they are going to wrestle. When they could make it available to you like that, they are going to take that three days, just because you were not a nice person.”

 

KSU guest speaker discusses difficulties overcoming gag order

By LAUREN LEATHERS

KENNESAW, Ga. – Lesli N.Gaither, a lawyer who represents several media platforms, met with Kennesaw State University students this week to present information on a recent gag order, as well as to give advice to future journalists going into the field.

Gaither, an attorney with Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, represented the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, WSB-TV and the Associated Press in successfully challenging a gag order issued last week in South Georgia. She spoke to Dr. Carolyn Carlson’s Media Law class this week.

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Lesli Gaither. (Photo credit: LinkedIn.com)

Judge issues gag order

The gag order was issued in the highly publicized death of schoolteacher Tara Grinstead, who went missing from Ocilla, Georgia, in 2005. Last month, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced the arrest of Ryan Alexander Duke in connection with her disappearance and death.

The defense attorney came forward with a stack of articles asking the judge to issue a restraining order stopping everyone involved in the case from talking to the media.

“They said this was getting out of control and we’re a small town and we don’t have a large jury pool,” said Gaither.

As a result, a gag order  was put into place almost immediately.

“Gag orders in Georgia are fairly rare, but this one came out in a fairly rare circumstance,” said Gaither.

Gaither said she feels the GBI, believing it had solved a 12-year-old cold case, wanted people to know about the case to see that its agents were doing their job well.

“It became a big deal,” said Gaither. “I think the GBI kind of wanted to talk about it.”

Difficulties arise obtaining  gag order

When Gaither requested the motion of the gag order from the clerk’s office she said she was denied. She requested any information the clerk’s office could give her in relation to the case and was, again, denied.

“This is, in my career, the first time I have challenged a motion that I have not read, and gone to argue a motion I have not read,” said Gaither.

Gaither said she told the judge upfront that she had not read the motion prior to challenging the gag order.

“It’s actually the high profiles that get the publicity,” said Gaither. “That doesn’t mean you should shut it down. It just means that’s what people are interested in and what they want to see. When things are gagged we only have rumors to go by.”

Gaither was able to receive  the judge’s gag order from a reporter. It is unknown how the reporter obtained the motion.

Gaither argued in a motion last week that the gag order was too vague and covered too many people. She presented a number of cases in her argument, arguing that the restraints should be narrowed significantly.

Gaither said the judge issued a modified order last Friday as a result of her arguments, and said she has no intentions to appeal.

“In our opinion, it’s still pretty wrong,” said Gaither.

Students react to  challenge of fighting  gag orders

One student in the class asked how it felt to challenge a motion without reading it prior.

In response, Gaither said that she openly admitted to courts that she had not read the motion prior and was unable to obtain a copy of the motion from the clerk’s office.

“It was not a big deal, but it was definitely different” said Gaither.

Senior journalism major Andrew Connard said he respects Gaither for the way she carries herself while speaking of her profession.

The biggest thing that stuck with me was that, as a journalist, I need to always be aware of, and stand up for, my rights,” said Connard.

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Lesli Gaither speaking to a media law class. (Photo credit: Lauren Leathers)

Gaither said connecting a person who is unaffiliated with a case has become a common mistake that leads to libel lawsuits against the media.

“It is so easy to grab a piece of information, but can be very difficult to verify that your information is really about the same person,” said Gaither.

Gaither said that journalists have to be very careful when using social media to get pictures or additional information about someone, because there are often many people with the same name.

Gaither said her number one piece of advice for journalists going into the field is to be aware that myth identification has become the biggest liability issue for newsrooms.

Media litigation and counseling has become the focus of Gaither’s practice, along with complex commercial litigation.

She has been recognized on multiple occasions from 2011 to 2013 as a Georgia “Rising Star” in the area of First Amendment and Media and Advertising Law. In 2014 to 2016, she was, again, recognized by Super Lawyers magazine in the area of Media and Advertising Law.

 

 

Kennesaw State alumnus writes, directs independent film in Smyrna

By AUTUMN JOHNSON

SMYRNA, Ga. — Kennesaw State alumnus, Brent Lambert-Zaffino, 26, is currently working on independent film, “The Head,” tentatively set to be released in May of 2017.

Lambert-Zaffino took an old childhood memory of his grandfather carving a wooden head, and is working on turning it into a dark comedy based off his current life experience.

After spending the past three years working on music videos and short films, the idea for the project came about when Lambert-Zaffino was filming a music video and had the idea to have the artist walk around the city holding a wooden head.

The song ended up falling through because the artist dropped out. However, still in love with the idea, Lambert-Zaffino took this idea and wrote his story based off of the music video.

“There’s nothing special or cute to me about this film, but when you promote it and show it to other people, you begin realizing it’s cool to them,” Lambert-Zaffino said. “You get a lot of warm responses from people who just think it’s really great that you’re doing your thing. It’s rewarding to see people act as positively as they do.”

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Poster for “The Head” film. (Submitted photo)

Lambert-Zaffino said that filming this project in Smyrna felt very appropriate to him since the city is right off Interstate 285 and therefore has a little Atlanta flavor, but not fully since it’s still in the suburbs. He also said there’s a big immigrant culture in conjunction with a large student culture, so it’s a diverse mix.

“The characters remind me so much of what I experienced here in Smyrna,” said Will Copeland, the actor who plays the lead character. “I feel like Smyrna is in between so many things, and the main character of this movie is too. He’s not in one place ever, so I feel like it makes sense to do film “The Head” here in Smyrna.”

About “The Head” 

“The Head” is about a man named Drew who quits his job at a coffee shop and begins carving a wooden sculpture of a head in his spare time. The sculpture ends up getting popular on the Internet, and he starts to believe that this head is his real calling.

Instead of finding success in the real world, Drew’s life spirals out of control because he is so caught up with this head, which doesn’t bring him any real, corporate life success.  As he contemplates what to do with the sculpture he created, he begins to feel the rejection life is bringing him as a consequence of dropping everything that he had to pursue this calling.

Not dealing with it very well, Drew begins making the same mistakes over and over again until, ultimately, he ends up back at the coffee shop and leaves the head sitting by the tip jar on the counter, hoping for the best.

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Brent Lambert-Zaffino. (Photo by Autumn Johnson)

Great learning experience

Lambert-Zaffino said he believes this film has made him a better film writer. The experience has taught him how to approach comedy along with other useful tactics for the movie industry.

One challenge Lambert-Zaffino said he encountered was telling people what they wanted to hear when you tell them that you’re making something. He said he did not think that finding the right words to convey his work to other people would be such an art form.

Lambert-Zaffino encourages anyone who wants to write or produce a film to go for it.

“Everyone has a cellphone,” said Lambert-Zaffino. “You can download script writing for free and editing programs are on computers. The more you shoot, the more you learn, and to me, that is invaluable.”

‘News on Facebook’ shows media newest ways to enhance audience reach

By CORY HANCOCK and RYAN BASDEN

ATLANTA – On Thursday, Feb. 9, dozens of local media members gathered in the Mason Fine Art space in Atlanta for “News on Facebook,” an event highlighting the newest way Facebook is enhancing the way journalists reach their audience.

The all-day event was a part of a new collaborative effort by Facebook, called The Facebook Journalism Project. This project aims to provide a collaborative development of news products, as well as training and tools for journalists.

“News on Facebook” provided a vast amount of social media data for the attendees to analyze and assess how to adjust their current social media strategies.

The event began with a quick opening from Jason White, manager of Strategic Partners at Facebook, followed by Meghan Peters, another employee of the Strategic Partners division, who spoke on the impact of local news on Facebook.

12Jason White welcomes attendees to the “News on Facebook” event. (Photo by Ryan Basden)

Following this, Lila King, an Instagram employee in News and Publishing partnerships, gave an insightful presentation on how to better utilize Instagram for reporting through features such as Instagram stories, live video and consistent posts.

After a catered lunch, a presentation by Amber Burgess, a Facebook Strategic Partners manager, showed the audience the benefits of CrowdTangle, a content discovery application that enables newsrooms to intertwine various social media platforms.

By merging all of those platforms, CrowdTangle provides a neat presentation of content based on user determined parameters. This allows users to aggregate content they might want to write their own stories about, track the success of stories they have already published and get an idea of what their audience is after.

Later, Julia Bain, a member of Facebook’s media team, discussed Facebook’s live video feature in greater depth as a revolutionary tool for engaging with your audience.

Immediately following Bain’s presentation, a panel of three local journalists, Matt Pearl of 11Alive, Julie Wolfe of 11Alive and Joanne Feldman of Fox 5, fielded questions about their experiences utilizing the various aspects of Facebook when reporting.

Lauren Colley, audience development manager for “The Atlanta Journal-Constitution,” said that the presentations reinforced that her team was on the right track, but realized she needs to be more consistent with what they are doing.

“I’m curious to know, how do you balance a good mix of native video in your timeline versus content that will link back to the website where the video lives?” Colley asked.

Many questions similar to Colley’s were asked throughout the event, and White said the questions were a vital part of the mission behind “News on Facebook.” He said the idea is to have a deeper collaboration with the journalism industry.

“I like to just go out and be with the people that use our products,” White said. “I think in some instances we learn more from them than they learn from us.”

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Facebook staff assist attendees with what Facebook has to offer news organizations. (Photo by Ryan Basden)

The fresh functions of Facebook, Instagram and CrowdTangle provoked many journalists to ask questions oriented toward eliciting a magic formula from those presenting the features available.

Josh Mabry, a Strategic Partner developer at Facebook, believes the tools provided can help reach the audience better, but that they aren’t the key to gaining a bigger and better audience.

“I think everyone is looking for some magic bullet theory, but it really comes down to good content,” Mabry said.

The Atlanta “News on Facebook” event was the second of its kind in the United States. The first was held in Dallas, Texas on Feb. 7, 2017. White said they plan to hit every region in the country, but a swing toward the West Coast might be next.

 

Local church ministry expansion plans include Kennesaw State

Local church ministry helps students deal with stress

By JOURDAN HUNTER

LITHONIA, Ga. – Local church-based organization, Joshua Generation Campus Ministry, has plans to expand their local organization over the next five years to include chapters within Georgia universities, including Kennesaw State.

Based on its constitution, the purpose of the ministry is to equip college students with the drive to become leaders by preparing them to pursue and fulfill God’s purpose on their college campuses.

The leaders of Joshua Generation hope to increase support and membership through their future expansion plans. Their goal is to establish a chapter on every Georgia university campus and to have an affiliated student for each chapter.

Georgia State University was the first chapter to be established, with leaders planning to move on to Kennesaw State University next.

“Joshua Generation helps students by making sure they are doing well in all aspects,” said Joshua Generation director Holbert White.

Having provided guidance and support for struggling college students for 26 years, some of the group’s key values include accountability, communication and integrity.

Students receive support through church-based teachings

Located at Cross Culture Church in Lithonia, Joshua Generation was established by assistant pastor Gregg Johnson in 1990.

One of the main differences between Joshua Generation and other support groups is the fact that it’s church-based. All of the ministry’s themes and messages are backed by Godly advice and scriptures.

Other differences include the willingness of its leaders to come up with new ways to help students and the level of accountability kept in place there.

“Level of accountability refers to staff members making sure that students have something that is guiding them through both the easy and the difficult decisions that they have to face in life, as a college student, while on their respective campuses,” White said.

Joshua Generation members support one another

Joshua Generation helps its students in various aspects, including personal life, school, relationships, finances and spirituality. Kennesaw State University student, Angelina Allen, is a part of Joshua Generation and said she loves the ministry.

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Angelina Allen (Submitted photo)

Allen said she loves the care and effort put forth by the staff members. When Allen is going through a hardship, she said she feels most comfortable talking to Holbert White’s wife, Nicole White. When they aren’t speaking over the phone, Nicole White and Allen update each other on current events after church on Sundays.

Allen said another benefit of being a part of the group is having a family who will always lift her up in prayer and being able to do the same for other students.

Support and messages come in many forms

Most outside communication is done through the social app, GroupMe, where students and staff post encouraging links and prayer requests.

“We always encourage each other,” Allen said. “We fellowship with one another and have good food and great conversations.”

Allen said she loves when staff members come to visit Kennesaw.

During the spring 2016 semester, Holbert and Nicole White made bi-weekly trips to Kennesaw State University to sit and talk with Joshua Generation students. The meetings involved food and message-guided games. The messages covered a variety of topics, including finances, romantic relationships, time management and career paths.

In addition to their expansion plans, the leaders of Joshua Generation want to host annual retreats, hold weekly bible studies via Skype and to, generally, become more prevalent on college campuses.

Local church ministry helps students deal with stress

KENNESAW, Ga. – Church-based organization, Joshua Generation Campus Ministry, assists college students seeking help for stress management.

Kennesaw State University psychologist, Dr. Josh Gunn, described stress as a normal human experience that everyone experiences differently.

Gunn said there is good stress that motives people to get things done and bad stress, which causes people to feel bad. Bad stress can cause lack of sleep, lack of motivation, over or under eating and irritability.

“Unfortunately, students stop doing exactly what will help them relieve stress when they start to feel stressed,” Gunn said.

One of Joshua Generation’s services to its students includes ways to learn how to relieve stress.

Gunn said different things can relieve stress, such as exercise, a balanced diet and good sleeping habits. Additionally, Gunn said social interaction with friends and support groups can also help with stress relief.

Joshua Generation is a Christian support group that caters to the needs of college-aged students. Joshua Generation director, Holbert White, said there are currently around 30 students that the group caters to.

Kennesaw State University student, Angelina Allen, is one of the 30 students benefiting from the group. Allen said she loves Joshua Generation because she feels it’s a safe place where she can always be herself.