transparency in government

Methods, Principals & Best Practices
for True Open Access
Thursday March 27, 2014
What is transparency?
• Easy to notice or understand
• Honest and open, not secretive
• Characterized by visibility/accessibility of
• A term frequently used by groups or individuals
who demand to know more
Georgia’s Sunshine Laws
A democratic government assumes that those who elect
public officials will have free access to what those public
officials are doing. Access to government meetings and
records provides citizens with the information they need to
participate in the democratic process and to insist that
government officials are held accountable for their actions.
Justice Brandeis once said, “Sunlight is the best
• Open Meetings O.C.G.A § 50-14-1
• Open Records O.C.G.A § 50-18-70
Who is Covered?
The term “agency” includes:
- Cities, counties, school districts, and other
political subdivisions of the state.
- Departments, agencies, boards,
commissions, authorities, and similar
bodies of state or local government.
- Regional authorities
It does NOT include:
- The General Assembly
An Open Meeting is….
When a quorum of the members of a governing body or agency,
or any committee of or created by an agency, gathers and public
business is discussed, presented, or voted upon.
Things to Consider…
-The public’s perception of what is taking place
-What can be done to mitigate any negative impressions
-What it means when it is not a “meeting”
“The public is the only critic whose opinion means
anything at all.”
- Mark Twain
What needs to be made open to the
public? (transparent)
Meeting Notices
Public Votes and Recording of Votes
Non-regular and Emergency Meetings
Meeting Summaries & Minutes
Executive Session
“Executive Session” refers to a portion of a meeting that
is lawfully closed to the public.
Limited range of topics…pending litigation, personnel issues and real estate
Closing a Meeting
The specific reasons for closure
shall be entered upon the official
Must be done by a majority vote
of a quorum present.
The presiding officer must sign an
The open minutes must reflect
the names of the members
present and those voting for
affidavit stating that the matters
discussed in a closed meeting were
within the exceptions to the act and
specify the relevant exception.
Rule of Thumb
If in doubt, OPEN the meeting.
“The Act [not its exceptions] must be
broadly construed to effect its remedial
and protective purposes.”
Atlanta Journal v. Hill, 257 Ga. 398, 399
Email and Technology Concerns
Do NOT use email to avoid holding
an open meeting.
Emails ARE subject to open records
Be cautious about:
Blogs and Twitter
Text messaging
Being online during a meeting
Enforcement of the Act
Attorney General may bring civil and criminal actions to
Any person, firm, corporation, or other entity may bring an
Superior Courts are authorized to issue injunctions.
Attorney’s fees are available to those bringing complaints.
Open Records
A Public Record is…
All documents, papers, emails,
letters, maps, books, tapes,
photos, data, data fields, or
similar material prepared and
maintained or received by an
agency or a private person on
behalf of an agency.
It does not matter how the record
is stored.
Certain Data Restricted, But…
If the person or entity states
under oath and in writing that
they are a representative of a
“news gathering organization”
and that the requested
information is for use in
connection with “news gathering
and reporting” they may gain
access to social security numbers
and day and month of birth.
Exceptions to the Exception
When under court order.
Court records covered by the Civil Practice Act.
Disclosure to court, prosecutor, or police.
Disclosure to a public employee for administrative purposes.
Records requested for an individual’s own information.
Social Security number and birthday of deceased.
To credit agencies under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.
In conjunction with public duties. (i.e. debt collection)
For legitimate law enforcement purposes. (i.e. F.B.I.)
Disclosure of date of birth in criminal records.
Georgia Records Act
Local governments are required to approve by ordinance or
resolution a records management plan.
City & County “Sunshine Review” Checklist
Elected officials
Administrative officials
Permits, zoning
 Budget for current fiscal year.
 Budgets for the past three years.
 Meeting minutes and agendas for the current year.
 Archives of meeting minutes and agendas for three years.
 A meeting calendar that discloses the time and location of public meetings.
 Contact information, including emails, is available for all officials.
 Terms of office and next election date are disclosed.
 Contact information, including emails, is available for all officials.
Public records
Zoning ordinances are disclosed.
Permit applications can be downloaded on the site.
Current audit is posted.
Audits for the past three years are available.
Bids and RFPs are available.
Contracts statements for vendors over $10,000 are available.
Total number of lobbyists employed and total spent on lobbying is disclosed.
Membership to government sector lobbying associations is disclosed, along with
membership dues.
Contact information, including an email, for the public information officer.
Information regarding local policies for requesting public records is available
Information about local tax rates and total revenues will be disclosed.
Story #2
Best Practices
• Be proactive
• Be thoughtful and cautions about ALL discussions
• Communicate, update & repeat
• Use the “Rule of Thumb”
• Don’t fear technology, make it easy
• Dedicate resources to transparency and information access
• Analyze, grade & revise
Methods, Principals & Best Practices
for True Open Access
Thursday March 27, 2014
Tonya Parker
Director, Dept. of Community Affairs
& Innovative Programs
Rockdale County Government
958 Milstead Ave.
Conyers, GA 30012
[email protected]
Bob Mullen
Director of Marketing & Public
City of Dunwoody
41 Perimeter Center East, Suite 250
Dunwoody, GA 30346
[email protected]