Quit clouding open government

Keep the sun shining on public records

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The public is singing Let the Sunshine In .

Bureaucrats are trying to drown that out with their rendition of Dancing in the Dark .

What part of "open records" fails to sink into the skulls of so-called public servants? Far too often, when members of the public want to examine information that by law should be readily available to anyone, the process becomes a trudge through a red-tape labyrinth in which government employees hope fervently that inquisitive citizens will get lost or perish.

This week is Sunshine Week, observed nationally to emphasize the powerful principles of open government and freedom of information.

The principles are so simple -- yet government can make them so difficult.

Remember that tall tale spun by President Obama and his staffers -- that his administration would be the most transparent in U.S. history?

Here's how it's worked out so far, more than two years in: Requests under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act have risen, but government responses to those requests have dropped .

An Associated Press investigation found that "the administration refused to release any sought-after materials in more than 1-in-3 information requests ... ."

What does the government think this is, the Freedom From Information Act?

On the state level it's even worse. This is what the AP found in Georgia: "(R)ecords show the state has not criminally prosecuted any open records or open meetings complaints since the attorney general's office began mediating those cases in 1998."

In at least a dozen cases, when there were probable openness violations, the attorney general's office simply declined to pursue any action.

How shameful and pathetic.

And here in Augusta? You could fill several pages -- and we have -- to list the number of times this newspaper has butted heads with the local government just to get access to even the most mundane open records.

The biggest, most persistent clog in the pipeline of public information has been Augusta's chronically reticent Law Department. Information requests that come its way tend to become overwhelmed with ridiculous fees and plodding timetables for release.

Thankfully, the process has gotten a bit quicker here. New rules passed last year permit city department heads to release information that before had to go through the Law Department. A couple of department heads either still don't know this, or don't care.

Georgia's new attorney general, Sam Olens, has been pressing for increased fines against people violating the state's sunshine laws. Now the fine is $100. Olens wants it upped to $1,000; if it's violated again within 12 months of the first offense, it would shoot up to $2,500.

That's an admirable start, but include this if you want the proposal to have real teeth: Require the fine to come directly out of the offender's pocket.

And incredibly, legislation has been introduced this year in the Georgia General Assembly that would provide less public access to public information.

Senate Bill 159 essentially would give private interests their own cloak of invisibility. If a company wants to locate in Georgia, this bill would wrongly keep secret any information about those companies seeking state economic incentives.

Senate Bill 249 would allow local governments to post meeting notices solely on their websites instead of in newspapers. So if this becomes law, and you don't have a computer, smart phone or e-tablet? Tough luck, citizen. No info for you.

The journey to get open records shouldn't resemble a trudge up Mt. Everest. Citizens should be cruising in comfort on a conveyor belt.

They're not the government's records. They're our records. And they're best read in warm, healthy sunshine.

Comments (19) Add comment
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Haki
31
Points
Haki 03/15/11 - 11:40 pm
0
0
Please ACES, give it a rest.

Please ACES, give it a rest. There is a mayor of Augusta, a new governor in Georgia and in South Carolina. There is a international crisis in Japan, which has some subject matter similar to our area. There are so many causes which needs advocates. I have read the opinion section for years and continue out of habit. I'm not sure what happen, but there seems to have become a fixation on one man.

...and now the defense from the usuals.

Riverman1
83689
Points
Riverman1 03/15/11 - 11:56 pm
0
0
I agree that keeping

I agree that keeping government records hidden does not promote honesty in government, but I disagree about GA Senate Bill 249. I'm reading this newspaper online so to say it should be mandatory to post government legal notices in hard copy newspapers doesn't make sense. It's a money maker for the newspapers is all. If you want a hard copy of a notice, hit the print icon.

usapatriot
0
Points
usapatriot 03/16/11 - 02:08 am
0
0
Sorry Riverman. Public

Sorry Riverman. Public notice is just that. A single source (online) is not sufficient. You're assuming everyone is like you, when that is the furthest thing from the truth.

Just as the got cannot require citizens to be connected, neither can it fulfill its duties solely online.

corgimom
32210
Points
corgimom 03/16/11 - 05:44 am
0
0
It wouldn't be an ACES

It wouldn't be an ACES editorial without something being said against Obama.

I've lost 23 pounds since last summer, during the Obama Administration. It's Obama's fault. Because everything that happens during his administration is his fault.

Once you accept that idea, it all makes perfect sense. *snort*

copperhead
1035
Points
copperhead 03/16/11 - 07:33 am
0
0
Your government knows what is

Your government knows what is best for you and should be very secretive about all things. The public does not need to know anything other than the "government said so".

Riverman1
83689
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 08:14 am
0
0
USAPat, let's look at this a

USAPat, let's look at this a minute. You are absolutely right that currently the law requires notices be printed in the selected local organ and that's the ONE local paper that has been chosen to receive the mega bucks to print them. That's the law the representatives want to change and should.

Realize, most readers of the AC are those online. Most people in the CSRA do not get the paper edition of the AC. All governments have websites that could easily take over the task and save tens of thousands of dollars. To continue the practice of paying a newspaper is as outdated as nailing notices on the court house door.

dichotomy
32811
Points
dichotomy 03/16/11 - 09:55 am
0
0
If there was ever a local

If there was ever a local government that needed it's feet held to the fire on the Sunshine laws it is Augusta/RC. We have been "backroom dealed" and "paid off" to death and that doesn't include the day to day cover-ups in contracting, personnel decisions, the legal department, etc. We have a right to know EVERYTHING unless it is a matter of national security. Every conversation by a commissioner, mayor, or government employee affects the taxpayers, and the rest of the citizens. If a county representative or employee passes gas while dealing with matters of money or policy, we have the right to know.

As for posting public notices, I am not sure requiring they be posted in a print media is a smart idea in an era of disappearing print media. Maybe they should add the caveat "if available at a reasonable cost/benefit ratio".

Chillen
17
Points
Chillen 03/16/11 - 10:06 am
0
0
The American people were

The American people were duped. They elected a dictator wanna-be. You just might get your wish in the end.

Watch the US Treasury bond market carefully. The dumping has begun. It started last week with Pimco. Warren Buffett & others are changing their investment porfolios. The rich have been investing in gold, silver & foreign currencies. Ask yourself. Why would THEY do this? Once Japan (by necessity) jumps in & sells their US Bonds and China jumps in, we will be in official economic collapse.

As it is 70% of our bonds are being bought by guess who? The US government! We are printing money to buy our own debt (paying off credit cards with credit cards). This cannot work for long. Eventually hyper-inflation will kick in. Inflation already has. How does a $20 loaf of bread sound to you? What will that do your savings account? Will your food stamp credit card pay for that?

Keep your heads in the sand liberals. Keep watching your MTV reality shows, watching MSNBC & reading the huffington post. Defend this loser President until you are fighting for your last scrap of bread. It's certainly more important for him to be able to use our tax money for a private Stevie Wonder concert, vacations, continual golf outings and NCAA pick publicity stunts. It's not like it would be better used in OUR hands.

Funny thing is, you won't even know what hit you. Dictator obama. Do you like the sound of that? For about 20% of America, I'm afraid that they do.

Riverman1
83689
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 10:02 am
0
0
Pretty soon if you want to

Pretty soon if you want to read a public notice you will have to drive down to Granny Moses house and get the paper. She will be the only one in 3 blocks still getting the paper paper.

ednacushman
0
Points
ednacushman 03/16/11 - 10:22 am
0
0
Haki,‘There are so many

Haki,‘There are so many causes which needs advocates.’
But none greater than pointing out how unqualified and corrupt the community organizer is.

ken8375309
1627
Points
ken8375309 03/16/11 - 10:37 am
0
0
"The American people were

"The American people were duped. They elected a dictator wanna-be."

Quite true in the 2000 elections, 2004 elections, and again in 2008..

Riverman1
83689
Points
Riverman1 03/16/11 - 12:17 pm
0
0
I remember the last time the

I remember the last time the issue came up in the legislature to eliminate the requirement to print legal notices in a local paper. It was argued that many small town papers couldn't survive without this income. That's what this is all about...money.

It's time for all papers to go online only. Print out the thing if you want something to line the bird cage.

Chillen
17
Points
Chillen 03/16/11 - 12:45 pm
0
0
Obama, his wife, his children

Obama, his wife, his children & entourage are headed to Rio de Janeiro for the weekend.

Your tax dollars hard at work. They have absolutely no class at all.

American's struggle and they party and travel on OUR DIME! It is nauseating.

kmb413
533
Points
kmb413 03/16/11 - 12:50 pm
0
0
I believe our liberal friends

I believe our liberal friends scan the editorial for the mere mention of Obama and then make comments regarding the ACES attacking him. I also believe those making these comments missed the entire meaning of the editorial, possibly because they didn't read it, only scanned for 1 name.
Of course, Obama wouldn't be coming under fire for the lack of transparency if he had not promised to have transparency.
If those who stopped at the name Obama would read the rest of the editorial they may note that it is pointed out that the lack of transparency reaches all the way to the local level and that none of us should be satisfied with that!

Haki
31
Points
Haki 03/16/11 - 01:21 pm
0
0
Funny, from our conservative

Funny, from our conservative friends to point out a sincere promise which reality has altered. President Bush promised to restore honor and dignity, so where is the outrage. The Republicans have created a mess within 8 years, and now you point fingers and want an immediate fix. The people spoke in 2008 and guess what, your thoughts, beliefs and ideas lost. If directly or indirectly infusing President Obama in a majority of the opinions here, your point is made.

Sorry you're physically ill from President Obama conducting his duties as President. Brazil does have the seventh largest economy in the world and the United States does maintain an 80 billion dollar economic relationship with the country. FYI, in case you stepped away from the television for a second.

rmwhitley
5547
Points
rmwhitley 03/16/11 - 01:42 pm
0
0
Did ya ever notice; with
Unpublished

Did ya ever notice; with every apology or whine there's a liberal? Did ya ever notice; when a serious question is asked the answer is obfuscated by a liberal? Did ya ever notice; the price of gas is going skyhigh and obama's sheep defend him? Did ya ever notice; "academic" liberals crying for the "collective" yet return NONE of their incomes to the "collective"? Did ya ever notice; those screaming loudest for abortion were not aborted? Did ya ever notice; liberals claim "deafness" to the Nov. 2, 2010 elections? Did ya ever notice; liberals continue to blame conservatives yet have held the "house" from 2006 until this past Jan. and still hold the senate? Did ya ever notice; liberals can't and won't accept criticism and blame for their multiple miscues? Did ya ever and ever and ever notice?

kmb413
533
Points
kmb413 03/16/11 - 01:59 pm
0
0
Why not point out another

Why not point out another promise that reality altered. Gitmo.

kmb413
533
Points
kmb413 03/16/11 - 02:02 pm
0
0
or...unemployment wont go

or...unemployment wont go over 9%

Haki, this isn't about Bush. Read the editorial.

PMA-411
0
Points
PMA-411 03/16/11 - 02:38 pm
0
0
This tabloid quality "news"

This tabloid quality "news" is incredibly self-serving and not news at all! The newspaper claims that the open records is so simple= just give the newspaper anything they want, anytime they want for free, right? Apparently no one at the Chronicle has actually looked at the Georgia Open Records Act. It is a rather complex statute with voluminous exceptions and references to other statutes that must also be analyzed to determine what should and should not be disclosed. The deceptive, one-sided, tabloid type reporting being touted as “news” is what is really "shameful and pathetic". No wonder this newspaper is bankrupt! The light of truth cannot be seen when you continually place your head in the sand!

Haki
31
Points
Haki 03/16/11 - 03:56 pm
0
0
Gitmo; exactly the situation.

Gitmo; exactly the situation. Glad you pointed that out. You're also right about my last comment, not being about President Bush. It's about your post today at 12:50pm.

kmb413
533
Points
kmb413 03/17/11 - 12:30 am
0
0
My 12:50 post didn't say a

My 12:50 post didn't say a single thing about Bush. It pointed out the obvious reason that Obama is getting bashed. It also points out that you only read the first part of my post that states that you were scanning for anything against Obama. The point of my post was to show that our liberal friends are so single minded that they only look for Obama bashing, then blaming Bush. Which is exactly what you did.

I will never say that I think Bush was the best President in history, and I surely won't say that about my current commander in chief.

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