Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fayette County Take Note: Secretary of State Handel Unveils Transparency in Government Initiative

Another breath of fresh air in government! This is something you don't see very often --- government opening their books without a FOIA (Freedom of Information) request. Half the time when you do a FOIA request you get a run-around and boy, if you are not extremely specific you may not get what you need.

When I worked for the Office of Thrift Supervision and Federal Home Loan Bank (we were responsible for watching over the Savings and Loan banks for Uncle Sam) I was in charge of handling FOIA requests at one point. Pretty much I picked up the phone and called Washington to get the same run-around most of you would have gotten if you'd called. No one really knew what could or could not be handed over unless it was the routine stuff. We gave out a lot of stuff with big black boxes over lines, too.

I digress...

Here at the County level things are getting more difficult to find. The meeting minutes have gone the 'we don't think you need to know how we're voting or thinking so you will believe whatever we tell you when we're up for election" route. If you go into the County to get an audio copy of the minutes you'll find that you can't play it unless you have the right equipment from what I've been told. I film the meetings so have never had the joy of having to take time to go ask for a copy.

The County has moved their Wednesday meeting into the tiniest room possible and all the staff comes to fill up the spots. Not many people come to the meeting, but when they do there's a scramble for chairs. I imagine if enough people started coming they'd move to the larger meeting room. (So why don't all of you come? ;-)

Until the press started sticking around this Commission would bring things up to vote on that weren't on the agenda. There are some issues they are required to give the public notice on such as rezonings, but technically they don't have to put things on the agenda. That means unless you happen to be at a meeting you might miss some important decisions that affect you.

Remember in Fayetteville when they got all bent out of shape when a reporter pulled out a tape recorder? Why should it matter if anyone records a meeting? It is clearly stated in the law that anyone can film or record meetings. I'd like to start filming all the meetings in the County but just don't have the staff or the time. I've settled in on filming School Board and County with an occasional meeting in the other jurisdictions.

By the way, along those lines, we've offered all elected officials a free blog and / or un-censored space on the Fayette Front Page (and we'll do the same on the Georgia Front Page). So far the only ones who've taken us up on the offer are Don Haddix, Peachtree City and Peter Pfeifer, Fayette County Commission. All through my years of working with politicians and being involved in government I've heard them all complain about the papers. They say they never print their side of the story, they don't print the good stuff, they don't print their letters, etc., etc., etc. Truth be told, I think most of them don't want the real story out there. Even if they don't want to utilize the Fayette Front Page, all the local governments have a website and the ability to write things, put out press releases and get their information out. Instead the trend is in the other direction.

I could ramble on about all the ways things have changed in regards to openness, some that have nothing to do with the actions of the Commission. The newspapers used to take time to go digging when an issue came up. These days budgets are tight, reporters have a different mind-set and there's not as much digging.

Contrast the direction the County seems to be going on at the state level, at least in Karen Handel's domain:

Secretary of State Handel Unveils Transparency in Government

Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel today announced the launch of the
Transparency in Government Initiative, a new website designed to enhance
government transparency, ethics and responsible stewardship of taxpayer

The Transparency in Government website contains the Secretary of State’s Fiscal Year 2009 Budget; monthly spending reports; the Secretary of State’s Ethics Policy; and Secretary Handel’s personal and campaign financial disclosures. The Transparency in Government Initiative can be viewed at: http://www.sos.georgia.gov/TIG/.

“Responsible fiscal management begins with a commitment to transparency and accountability,” Secretary Handel said. “Georgia taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent, and I am pleased to provide them with that information.”

The Transparency in Government Initiative website will be updated monthly with detailed information on how the agency spends taxpayer dollars.

Karen Handel was sworn in as Georgia Secretary of State in January 2007. The Secretary of State’s office offers important services to our citizens and our business community. Among the office’s wide-ranging responsibilities, the Secretary of State is charged with conducting efficient and secure elections, the registration of corporations, and the regulation of securities and professional license holders. The office also oversees the Georgia Archives and the Capitol Museum.

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