In days gone by, finding out what your government was doing required a visit to the courthouse or tax office for tedious, eye-straining searches of monotonous documents.
Now, keeping tabs on your tax dollars at work often is as easy as clicking a mouse - and Columbia County's government is leading the way to provide improved access.
Columbia County already has a well-designed Web site at columbiacountyga.gov. In its most recent addition to open government, Columbia County purchased the DocDepot program - at a relative bargain price of less than $10,000 - to provide online access to an even deeper level of government information.
Erin Hall, an executive assistant in the county commission office, says four new areas will be available for online searches: "One is agendas and minutes, along with all the background documentation. We also want to have one for all resolutions that are passed, another for all ordinances that are passed and another for all agreements that are entered into."
Once the changes take place, citizens will be able to use the county's Web site to conduct text searches for all documents in the system. And it won't just be newly generated documents, either; the county also will work backward to add in older files.
That effort will help citizens, while assisting the county's office staff, too. Rather than relying on an old database and individual memories to provide background on specific issues, the staff will be able to use the system to research each new topic as it arises. That will help pay back the cost of the system by cutting down not only on research time, but in reducing potentially costly errors.
This action from the county government comes on the heels of the sheriff's office providing access to all incident reports via its Web site, and in the wake of the commission videotaping all its sessions and making them available through the Internet.
Naturally, none of these commendable actions are a substitute for vigilance, both from citizens and from the media. And they won't provide insight into the personal and business relationships that often sway how the people in public office form their decisions.
But in a free society, access to more information is always a good thing - especially if citizens feel encouraged to use that information to help their government do a better job.
Columbia County government: www.columbiacountyga.gov
Columbia County Sheriff's Office:
Columbia County Board of Education:
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