New Atlanta city attorney Nina Hickson refused to withhold records

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has appointed Nina Hickson to the city attorney position on Thursday, a move that further signals a shift in how City Hall handles public records requests.

The appointment also comes during a Georgia Bureau of Investigation inquiry into possible criminal violations of the Georgia Open Records Act and amid meditations sparked by a civil complaint filed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News.

The Georgia Open Records Act mandates that government bodies produce public records in reasonable amount of time. It allows journalists and others to learn about the inner workings of government.

But recent news stories have shown that former Mayor Kasim Reed’s top staffers may have violated the state’s public records law.

Last year, Hickson served as general counsel for the Atlanta Beltline. Text messages obtained by the AJC and Channel 2 Action News revealed that Hickson instructed Beltline CEO Brian McGowan to not delay producing a public record after the AJC had requested it.

Reed’s former Communications Director, Anne Torres, told McGowan to ignore Hickson’s advice and suggested McGowan ask Reed “how to deal with her.”

“If she wants to work for the media, then she should leave her position,” Torres said of Hickson in a Sept. 27 text to McGowan. “We can hold whatever we want for as long as we want.”

Beltline officials resisted Torres’ pressure, which she later called “banter,” and provided the records in compliance with the law.

Earlier this year, an AJC investigation showed that copies of legal invoices produced by former City Attorney Jeremy Berry weren’t actual invoices.

Instead they were what Berry called “compilations” and “summaries” invoices after being confronted by the AJC.

The AJC has since learned that city had instructed the law firm Baker Donelson to conceal its work in relation to a federal corruption investigation at City Hall by mixing up time entries with other matters.

Berry told the AJC that the city had hidden Baker Donelson’s time entries to prevent possible targets of federal probe from learning details about the investigation.

In May, a spokesperson told the AJC that Berry was “working from home” after the AJC had raised questions about why Berry had redacted the date off a legal contract. Berry had argued that the date was attorney-client privilege information.

Hickson was then named interim city attorney upon approval by the Atlanta City Council.

Hickson’s permanent appointment is still contingent upon council approval.

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