By Sam Olens
The goal of good government is the efficient use of taxpayer money to best serve the community. Transparency helps meet this goal by providing mutual accountability through a check and balance system and encouraging fiscal responsibility.
Georgia’s Legislature took an important step in 2008, unanimously passing the Transparency in Government Act to establish a free, searchable Web site containing state expenditures, financial and performance information, contracts and other information. Known as Open Georgia, the state’s transparency Web site is up and running, and data are available for taxpayers, residents and activist groups to delve into at http://open.georgia.gov/.
While this openness is useful at the state level, local governments have an obligation to display the same level of commitment to transparency and openness to the public. Local governments account for 60 percent of the spending in Georgia, which reinforces the need for them to be open and accountable. And Cobb County has taken many steps to ensure the public has access to essential records. The county’s Web site, www.cobbcounty.org, contains a wealth of information that people can easily access 24 hours a day.
For 20 consecutive years, Cobb County has earned the Certificate of Achievement in Financial Reporting presented by the Government Finance Officers Association for the highest standards in government accounting and financial reporting. And for good reason: The Biennial Budget is published online and includes details ranging from Cobb’s demographics and economic information to the county government’s operating budget by fund and sources of revenue. The Comprehensive Annual Financial Review is also available online and includes government financial statements, statistical data and independent auditors’ reports.
In addition to financial information, the public can easily access details on county bids and contracts by looking up bid information and proposal responses. This encourages competitive bidding among companies thereby allowing the county to get the best prices on products and services. All sealed bid openings are broadcast on the county’s television channel, TV23, as well as live on the Web and on Video on Demand.
When voters approved Cobb’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), they expected their government to fulfill promises made. Transparency facilitates that, allowing people to track progress on all SPLOST projects, including project specifications, costs and estimated timelines for completion. This knowledge affords the public the opportunity to express concerns with proposed projects and offer ideas.
All Cobb Board of Commissioners’ regular meeting and zoning hearing agendas are posted online and meeting minutes are searchable. Residents can also find parcel information online, including property values and tax records.
Cobb continues to make a variety of geography-based information accessible to the public. In March, a Web page was launched which provides analysis of zoning districts and pending zoning petitions around the county.
Through the use of the Internet and other channels of communication, it is becoming easier than ever to provide information quickly and easily. Transparency encourages public involvement in government and helps ensure that all resources are used responsibly. That, in turn, helps Cobb County succeed as a fiscally sound community, open and accountable to voters and taxpayers.
Sam Olens, chairman of the Cobb County Commission and the Atlanta Regional Commission, wrote this commentary for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. The Foundation is an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (January 16, 2009). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and his affiliations are cited.