Sunday, September 7, 2014

Transparency in Dunwoody Government continues to be a cornerstone of my public service.

As an elected official and public servant who ran for this City Council Seat over six years ago on a platform of transparency, I can honestly say that I have worked very hard to fulfill that promise.  With all the news of corruption, waste and purposeful abuse of power by hiding public records that may have identified waste, fraud and abuse if they were available; I have the distinction of trying to be the polar opposite as I have a six year history of publishing every public document that I get my hand on to my private servers and to my blog so that you the citizens of Dunwoody are informed. 

Below is an excerpt of a well written AJC article by Bill Torpy that highlights what could be considered the norm by some, but I doubt he is talking of the City of Dunwoody.  
Think pols’ business is your business? They don’t - Bill Torpy AJC

Across metro Atlanta, government officials guard public records like we’re asking for intimate pages of their teen-aged daughters’ diaries.

The list goes on and on of public officials hiding, thwarting or even obfuscating when it comes to shining light on what they do.

It’s a dance we do almost every day with those who spend your money: They do something. We ask them about it. They say, “File an Open Records request.” We do. They sometimes release some or all of the records. Sometimes within the accorded three days required. Often not. Or they make up excuses to delay. There’s lots of excuses.

Often they hope we’ll just get frustrated and go away. Or rather, that you will. You, the pain-in-the-butt public. You, the pesky newspaper scribe.

Officials have always been touchy when it comes to releasing records that explain what they did and how they did it. They usually go into office with good intentions of public service and think transparency is a good thing. (I know, there’s ego and some narcissism involved in seeking election.) But those grandiose goals of openness are often worn down by questions and second-guessing. Then, the walls go up and the moat gets flooded. The reason officials sometimes get touchy about public documents is because there’s a difference between what they say and what actually happened.
I noticed the following letter to the editor from former Dunwoody Councilman, Robert Wittenstein asking for more transparency in Dunwoody Government expense accounts, and though it wasn't an "official" request to which I was mandated to take action I agreed that with the circumstances being what they are now is a good time to publish them for the world to see.   Based on Robert's request, I made my own to the Dunwoody City Clerk that all Mayor & City Council expense account be published to the city website.
To the Editor of the Dunwoody Crier:

Elaine Boyer’s criminal fraud is sad and horribly disappointing.

What is also disappointing is the report on Elaine and her chief of staff’s use of county funds to treat themselves and their guests to meals at taxpayer expense. It isn’t just the extravagant meals costing hundreds of dollars at places like McKendrick’s and Bone’s, but the sheer volume of meals they decided to submit for reimbursement week in and week out.

It is hard to tell if this was a perk they felt entitled to in exchange for their public service or if they were attempting to increase their personal standing with guests by appearing generous (with our money).

My question is this…Do we have the same culture in Dunwoody? How are our mayor and city council spending their expense allowances?

Transparency is the greatest guard against abuse. I’d like to see the city, or perhaps The Crier, publish the spending habits of our elected officials. My hope is that we will discover that we are a model for DeKalb to follow.

Robert Wittenstein
The City gets so many open records requests and I know we work hard to strive to fulfill all of our legal requirements but that being said, I wonder if we could do even better?  What if, every public request was documented in a public table on our website showing the city assigned request number, the date, who and what they asked for (hyperlinked to the actual paper request) and then have a hyperlink to the requested documents or data published to the web for all to see?   It's budget time in the City and there is already a request for a records clerk therefore an online tracking and repository shouldn't be that difficult.

In 2012, the State Legislature changed the rules on open meetings and open records and here is a memo from Attorney General Sam Olens outlining the changes.  Below are other items of interest on the topic.

Though I have written on this subject quite a bit and have previously filed many open records requests, I consider the Georgia First Amendment Foundation the go to authority on the subject other than the State Attorney General's Staff.

Check out the informative documents below for the general open records rules as well as those that govern law enforcement and public schools.
  1. Red Book: open records and meetings
  2. Blue Book: open records and law enforcement
  3. Green Book: open records and public schools
  4. Sample Open Records Request
  5. Georgia Open Records Act
  6. Georgia Open Meetings Act

H.B.397 Law & Legislative Background, open meetings and records; revise provisions

AJC - Law prods public officials toward transparency

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