Opinion piece by Jessica Szilagyi
Atlanta’s new mayor deserves credit for her response to the bribery scandals of the last administration, and I’m here to give her some.
Mayor Bottoms stood in the City Hall atrium recently in front of scores of city employees who are smarting from the damage to the city’s reputation—and well aware that more bribery indictments are likely.
The Mayor promised that from here on out, Atlanta’s finances will be an open book. She promised transparency. And technology.
The city will launch an online portal for people to track government spending—complete with information on every expenditure, salary, budget, and contract.
It’s called Atlanta’s Open Checkbook.
It’s a brilliant idea, and, with two vendors and the city’s former chief procurement officer recently sentenced to jail, it’s long overdue.
Hundreds of citizens spend time every year asking the state Attorney General’s Office to mediate disputes with their local governments as they try to get open records and finance-related documents. They’re often told it will take weeks, if not months, and it will cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars that most citizens don’t have.
More often than not, it’s an absolute nightmare. I know this because it’s happened to me several times.
Many of us advocates for transparency and government accountability have long said, “Just put it online” because, well, this is 2018 and the time it takes to scan a document and upload it to the Internet is considerably faster than the days of dial-up in 1999.
Why shouldn't documents associated with our tax dollars be readily available, easily accessible, and free?
As Mayor Bottoms herself put it, “The public information belongs to the public.”
If it works as promised, Open Checkbook will help restore the public’s trust in government, reduce the cost of responding to record requests, and discourage city employees involved in contracts from breaking the law.
It’s simply the right thing to do.
“Open Checkbook” is already in place in cities like Dallas, Austin, and Washington D.C. We have something similar in Georgia called open.georgia.gov, but it isn’t nearly as comprehensive. And it will be up to Mayor Bottoms to make sure Atlanta’s online transparency lives up to its promise.
With the track record of non-transparency in local government, Mayor Bottoms is going to need our help. Change isn’t easy and you can be sure she will meet strong resistance. Let’s support her. We should let her know she’s on the right track and the voters stand behind her! Here is Mayor Bottoms' phone number: (404) 330-6100.
In the meantime, other local governments, and the state itself shouldn't wait for the scandal to act. They should follow Atlanta’s lead and commit to the kind of openness our information age demands.
DISCLAIMER: This segment represents the views of the commentator and not necessarily those of FOX 5 Atlanta.