Atlanta to continue transparency efforts through public records website
UPDATE: April 20, 2018: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms wrote a letter to City Council on Monday announcing efforts to create a dedicated open records website, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) and StateScoop.
"In the spirit of my announcement last week about the City's new 'Open Checkbook' online application ... I am pleased to announce a comprehensive plan to implement best in class policies, protocols, and procedures for transparency and compliance with the Georgia Open Records Act ('GORA') in the City of Atlanta," she wrote.
The announcement came in response to a complaint filed by AJC and Channel 2 Action News which alleged "a culture of political interference" with open records requests. StateScoop notes that these interferences date back to July 2016, and continue to as recent as February, under Bottoms' leadership.
The website will include compliance training materials, FAQs, city record retention schedules and a link to the Georgia Attorney Generals' Office website, among other resources. In addition to the website, Bottoms said she will implement a Citywide Open Records Compliance Policy and a City Open Records Response Protocol, which includes a checklist for employees to follow when responding to public records requests.
- Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms announced on April 10 the city's first-ever "Open Checkbook," an online portal that will allow the public to access city budgets, expenditures, salaries and contracts with vendors.
- The portal — slated to launch this summer — will also offer historical trends and projected expenses "regardless of financial acumen" to allow users to analyze the city's spending.
- Bottoms said in a statement the initiative will help Atlanta residents "reestablish trust in city government."
Since Atlanta fell victim to a ransomware attack across the city's technical infrastructure last month, Mayor Bottoms has been quick to initiate damage control and address the public on the city's actions. "I think it's very clear that people are concerned about where we are with ethics and transparency in the City of Atlanta," she said during an April 10 press conference.
The city has long struggled to achieve a strong standard of government transparency, and in 2013 was graded an 'F' in a report on transparency in city spending. The Open Checkbook portal — which mimics similar portals in Dallas, Austin and DC — is a big leap toward improving citizen relations and engagement, and ensuring that city leaders remain on task with budgeting and spending.
In fact, this focus on transparency has not only sparked the Open Checkbook initiative, but has also motivated Bottoms to reassess cabinet members. One day prior to the press conference, Bottoms asked for the resignation letters of 26 high-level city officials, including Chief Financial Officer John Gaffney, police chief Erika Shields and City Attorney Jeremy Berry. Though Bottoms has said she will not accept all of the resignations, she has expressed a desire to create a team that "best reflects alignment with the goals and opportunities we look to pursue over the next four years."
"This is a reboot for us as a city," she said during the press conference. "We will be stronger on the other side of this uncomfortable time."
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