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Cobb government: Above the board

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District Three Commissioner Jo Ann Birrell addresses the public gathered at a town hall meeting in the Mountain View Regional Library. Members of the commission typically hold about three meetings each month in various districts to help keep the public informed.

By Gary A. Witte
CobbLine Staff

Open government doesn’t just mean the doors are unlocked during business hours.

Rather than simply follow the minimum required by law, Cobb County government demonstrates its daily commitment to public information through a variety of programs.

This includes the Cobb County Web site at cobbcounty.org, which just received a third “Sunny” award honoring it as one of the best sites for government transparency in the nation.

Only eight other Web sites in Georgia earned the recognition by Sunshine Review, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting open government. The organization reviewed about 6,000 sites and only 214 across the nation won.

“The Sunny Awards recognizes governments that are doing an exemplary job at proactively disclosing information to taxpayers,” said Michael Barnhart, president of Sunshine Review.
“There are so many organizations and associations that highlight what is wrong with government. We at Sunshine Review are proud to acknowledge those who are doing it right and setting a transparency standard that all governments can, and should, meet.”

The organization’s “transparency checklist” analyzes Web sites for information about budgets, meetings, elected and administrative officials, permits and zoning, audits, contracts, lobbying, public records and taxes. The “checklist” measures what content is available on government Web sites against what should be provided.

Ross King, executive director of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, recently praised Cobb’s open government policies.

“Cobb County is definitely a leader in providing an open and transparent government through the use of public forums, local cable access television, Web site, community newsletter and other communications outreach,” he said in a statement.

“They have a customer service orientation that is clear through the actions of both the Board of Commissioners and the staff.”

The Cobb Web site not only connects users to individual county departments, but also offers free live streaming of various meetings – including the Board of Commissioners and bid openings. The overall site brings about a quarter-million visitors each month and the live streaming has more than 13,000 views during the same time.

TV23, Cobb County’s government access channel, also broadcasts these meetings to 200,000 households, allowing the public to watch government business conducted without ever leaving their homes.

Meanwhile, county commissioners average about three town hall meetings a month, where their constituents can meet them face-to-face and ask questions of county department heads.

“We believe that having an informed and engaged public can lead to better decision making,” King said. “Town hall meetings and other forums give citizens an opportunity to express their opinion and allows county commissioners to broaden their perspective on issues.”