Mar 11, 2024 - News

How to use Georgia's transparency laws

Illustration of a manila folder opening like a door.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Monday marks the beginning of National Sunshine Week, a raucous celebration of the public's right to access government records.

  • Here's how you can use Georgia's transparency law to obtain your county commission's spending accounts, government contracts, or that dashcam video from your recent traffic ticket.

Why it matters: Sunshine is the best disinfectant. Transparency is vital to keeping the government we fund honest and accountable.

How it works: First, check the government agency or body's website for information about where and how to submit open records requests. Some entities have an employee or online portal to streamline and handle requests.

  • Say clearly what you want in writing (you'll save time and money). The Georgia First Amendment Foundation has sample letters to use and primers on the law.
  • The government has three business days to acknowledge the request. If they need more time, you'll get an estimated completion date and cost.

Of note: Some records — pending economic real estate deals, documents that include a person's health information, and most records referencing child abuse — are exempt from disclosure.

Pro tips: "Try requesting your city or county's log of open record requests, then circle back and do a second request for anything from that list that seems to be a hot topic," Maggie Lee, a freelance data reporter, told Axios.

  • "Call your government's clerk to ask about how documents and data are stored," Max Blau, an Atlanta-based reporter in ProPublica's South bureau. "Talking to a human may help you get records in a faster, cheaper, and less stressful way."

The bottom line: If you feel an agency or elected official is stonewalling you and your request, contact the Georgia attorney general's office. Or send us a line.

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