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Henry County web site gets high marks

By Valerie Baldowski

vbaldowski@henryherald.com

The Henry County government's web site has received a grade of "A+" for its transparency and accessibility.

The county web site -- www.co.henry.ga.us -- received the grade from the Sunshine Review, a non-profit organization, based out of Alexandria, Va., dedicated to state and local government transparency, said Julie Hoover-Ernst, Henry County Communications director.

Henry is one of six counties, out of 159 counties in Georgia, to achieve the A status, said Hoover-Ernst. "As of Nov. 1, Clayton County, Cobb County, and Columbia County scored A+, while Richmond County, and Whitfield County scored A-," she added.

The Sunshine Review was launched in July 2008. To get a grade of "A" or higher is uncommon, she said.

"It's pretty rare," said Kristin McMurray, Sunshine Review's senior editor. "We've rated over 5,000 web sites. There's 70 in the United States that have gotten an 'A.'"

Sunshine Review's "Transparency Checklist" allows governments to post information about their web site on Sunshine Review's web site, where it is analyzed to ensure details about budgets, meetings, agendas, permits, zoning, audits, contracts, lobbying efforts, and taxes, are available on the web site, said Hoover-Ernst.

"Over the last five years, Henry County has worked to greatly expand its web site, in order to ensure the information citizens most commonly need is always just a click away, 24 hours a day," she continued.

For instance, residents can look up and pay property taxes online, register for Parks and Recreation Department programs, research crime statistics, and locate zoning and elections/polling information specific to their property, said Hoover-Ernst.

The courts have also added the capability to pay traffic tickets online, search Superior Court dockets, and submit claims and other documents electronically, said Hoover-Ernst.

The county discovered its good grade when researching Sunshine Review last month, said the communications director.

"We learned [of] it the end of October, by checking the web site ourselves," said Hoover-Ernst. "We had been working to expand Henry County's web site features, to make sure that it addressed all of Sunshine Review's criteria, in all categories on their transparency checklist, so we were checking the web site grade, periodically, as we updated our site information on their web site."

In addition to county web sites, Sunshine Review analyzes state and school system web sites, Kristin McMurray said.

"It is a bit of a mix and match," she said. "We have paid writers, and volunteers. They systematically went through counties last year, and this year, they're going through school districts."

The non-profit organization notifies the states, counties and school systems of their grade through an e-mail "blast," followed up with an e-mailed press release, added McMurray.