ATHENS — Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity said he likes a proposed law that would extend the time that state athletic departments have to respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. But he maintains that UGA had nothing to do with proposing it.
Speaking in a sidebar conversation before a men’s basketball news conference Wednesday at the Stegeman Training Facility, McGarity claimed that UGA’s athletics department has processed nearly 100 FOIAs since Dec. 1. The complications involved with dealing with that is the reason the legislation — which extends the response time from three to 90 days — was necessary.
“Administratively, it helps us tremendously,” McGarity said. “We’ve received 95 FOI requests since Dec. 1. That goes through the University and it goes through (McGarity’s administrative assistant). She’s got to stop everything she’s doing in order to deal with it within three days. I like it. It gives us time to do our job as far as what we normally do as well as address all the issues of FOIA.”
The UGA Athletic Association operates on a $117 million budget and currently has more than $60 million in its reserve fund. McGarity was asked why the tax-exempt, non-profit corporation could not assign a full-time administrator to facilitate requests for such legally-sanctioned information.
“There are so many ideas that people have out there,” McGarity said. “I just know that right now, the way we operate, it’s taxing to a lot of people.”
McGarity was evasive when the subject turned to exactly how the legislation came to be. State legislators Earl Ehrhart (R-Powder Springs), Calvin Smyre (D-Columbus) and Terry Rogers (R-Clarkesville) attached to Senate Bill 323 an amendment that would extend from three to 90 days — 0r by 3,000 percent — the amount of time college athletic departments in the state had to respond to FOIA requests. The bill passed both houses after midnight on the next-to-last day of the legislative session.
On Tuesday, first-year football coach Kirby Smart admitted that it was no coincidence that the legislation came to be a month after he, McGarity and UGA president Jere Morehead visited the state capitol. Smart said he was asked during those meetings what were some of the differences between the football programs at Georgia and Alabama, and he said he brought up the sunshine laws in Alabama were more restrictive.
“There’s a difference,” Smart said, “and that was the extent of my conversation with those guys about that. So for me to get the credit for that is a little bit misleading.”
Smart declined follow-up questions.
McGarity was asked if it was truly his first-year coach who went to the capitol with an agenda or was Smart doing his bidding.
“I don’t have any comment on it because Kirby said it and he told it like it was,” McGarity said. “He was asked, like he said, the differences between Alabama and Georgia, among many things. That was one of many things that were different.”
McGarity would not say with whom those conversations were held.
“I forgot,” he said. “We met with so many people that day. We had a meeting with the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house. I bet we saw 150 people while we there. It just came up, ‘What are the differences?’ And that was the extent of it.”
That was in late February. McGarity couldn’t say why the issue didn’t come up for discussion on the house floor until the 11th hour of the final session.
“I’ve let Kirby address that; I thought he did that yesterday,” McGarity said. “My only comment on the FOI (legislation) is that it gives us a chance administratively.”