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Georgia's 'tell-all' web site opens

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Clayton County Board of Education Chairperson Alieka Anderson does not mind people knowing how much money she makes as a school teacher, and a school board member.

Information regarding Anderson's salary as an Atlanta teacher is available to anyone with Internet access. Her board salary will not show up until the fiscal year ending in the spring of 2009, since such information is provided on a fiscal-year basis.

The state launched the Open Government: Transparency in Government web site on Jan. 1, so information, such as financial reports, salaries and travel reimbursements, and expenditures for professional services are easily accessible to Georgia residents.

The web site can be found at www.open.ga.gov/.

For people who want to keep a close eye on their local school officials, they can find their salaries, how money is spent by superintendents, school board members, administrators, teachers and staff members.

"We're elected officials," said Anderson. "As long as you're doing your job, you have nothing to worry about. The citizens of Georgia, the citizens of Clayton County, have a right to know how much money you're making. The people are going to want to know what your salary is, anyway, so I don't see a problem with it being out there."

State officials lauded the launch of the web site as a step forward for transparency. Much of the web site involves financial records of the state government, such as reports on the state's budgets. It also has program reviews, which evaluate the operations of the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the PeachCare for Kids healthcare program.

Residents can also find the salaries and travel reimbursements for employees of local school boards, state colleges and universities; state agencies, boards and commissions, and regional educational service agencies.

"The Open Georgia web site makes state government more transparent to its customer, the taxpayer," said Gov. Sonny Perdue in a statement. "By being willing to further open the halls of government to the public, we give citizens more confidence that their tax dollars are being spent wisely."

The web site was created through the Transparency In Government Act, which was signed into law by Perdue on May 12, 2008. The act amended the Official Code of Georgia Annotated's Title 50, which deals with state government, "to provide for the creation and maintenance of a web site which provides public access to certain state expenditure information."

The Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts is responsible for maintaining the site. Information on the site will be updated on an annual basis.

"We have taken a major step toward fully open and easily accessible accounting of how every state tax dollar is spent," said state Sen. Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock), who co-authored the Transparency in Government Act with Sen. Chip Pearson (R-Dawsonville). "The very best way to prevent wasteful government spending is to let those paying the bills see exactly where their money is going."

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On the Net:

Open Government: Transparency in Government: http://www.open.ga.gov/