ATHENS – Greg McGarity is a meticulous journaler. Or at least he used to be.
Before he came to Georgia as the Bulldogs’ athletic director, he was for 18 years the senior associate athletic director and right-hand man for Jeremy Foley at the University of Florida. And in that role, McGarity kept a daily record of everything he did. At the end of the day, he’d recollect and write down everything that happened so he’d be able to go back and verify any promises he might have made or assurances he may have been given, etc. It’s a good business practice. He still has the thick, black journals stacked neatly in a cabinet in his office at UGA’s Butts-Mehre Heritage Hall.
But McGarity doesn’t keep those journals anymore. He told me he quit doing it once he realized such recordings are subject to Georgia’s – as well as Florida’s – open records, or “sunshine” laws.
In fact, McGarity claims he doesn’t write anything down anymore, via pen or digital key stroke. He said he conducts as much of UGA’s athletics business as he possibly can “verbally,” so that there’s no record of it.
That’s certainly not in the spirit of the law, which was designed for the public’s right to know. And it’s a little bit surprising considering McGarity is himself a journalist, both figuratively and literally. He graduated from UGA’s prestigious Grady School of Journalism, class of 1976.
McGarity called me on Thursday in response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s latest freedom of information submission. It included among other things a request to review any correspondences between him or coach Kirby Smart and state legislators Earl Ehrhart, Terry Rogers and/or Calvin Smyre. They were co-sponsors of an amendment attached to Senate Bill 323 and passed by both houses after midnight this past Tuesday.
The amendment, which still requires the signature of Gov. Nathan Deal, would give UGA and all collegiate athletic departments in the state 90 days rather than the previous three-to-five days to respond to requests for public information.
“There’s just nothing there,” McGarity said of the requested documents. “I’d be stunned if Kirby had any of those things either. … A lot of this stuff you’ll just find no response to.”
Increasingly, that has been the response of UGA to just about everything. But I’m not here to gripe about what Georgia or the state legislature is doing. This does, after all, fall into the category of the public’s right to know.
I see that some fans are applauding this as a move that is somehow going to “level the playing field” with Alabama and Auburn and some of the Bulldogs’ other rivals in football. Ehrhart actually asserted as much. But I fail to see how this bill could possibly have an effect on anything that happens on the football field.
Just so you know, here’s how we generally utilize public-record laws in the course of doing our jobs covering UGA athletics. At regular intervals, we ask Georgia for:
- Documentation of any NCAA rules violations committed by any of their sports programs;
- Copies of any new employment contracts or salary actions;
- Copies of any new game contracts they might have made in football or other sports.
Yes, occasionally, we’ll ask for some kind of specific information like we did last month with regard to recruiting travel. All that happened there was it became apparent in December and January that Smart was traveling a lot by private jet and occasionally by helicopter to recruit and conduct UGA football business.
Somebody at the office asked the simple question, “I wonder what that costs?” So we asked Georgia.
And Georgia dutifully complied by producing the receipts and expense outlays. The public had a right to know. And certainly UGA Hartman Fund donors, who give athletics in the neighborhood of $22 million to $24 million a year for the right to buy season football tickets, had a right to know that the Bulldogs had run up more than $550,000 in private-air expenses since Smart came on board.
How in the world any of that could have prevented Georgia or will prevent Georgia from winning one football game is beyond me.
One thing I’ve never asked for, and I’m guessing nobody else does either, is for a list of recruits planning to make official visits on a given weekend. That was the assertion of Ehrhart in one of his comments on the need for this legislation. If ever we’ve wanted to know who is visiting UGA, we ask the recruits themselves. I suspect everyone else does, too.
In any case, we don’t do any of this for ourselves. It’s for the public. It’s for you to know what you have a right to know.
Maybe you don’t want to know.