I-TEAM INVESTIGATION: Transparency test for local governments

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Thursday, March 14, 2019
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- This week, our I-TEAM has highlighted the role of open government. Public information does not belong to the government or the media, it belongs to you.

From taxes to budgets, access to information can help you understand why decisions are made. Some local governments make access easier than others.

Three counties judged on three criterias: online accessibility, user-friendliness, and most current information.

We asked Diana Brissie to help us find commission minutes, property records, code enforcement complaints and the budgets for Richmond, Columbia, and Aiken counties.

First up was the minutes from commission.

"Augusta Georgia Official Website," said Brissie.

In less than a minute, she found it.

"Commissioner and council meetings uh huh got it," said Brissie.

It took longer to find Columbia County. Diana was confused by the search button at first. You have to click here to search not in the search bar itself.

"Here is one here let me click on that meeting let me click on that actually pops up call to order pledge of allegiance and so on," said Brissie.

She had no problem finding the minutes for Aiken County.

"Council agenda and minutes okay its reasonably user-friendly," said Brissie.

Next up was property records.

"Search by owners name location address there we go," said Brissie.

Again, there was no problem finding it on Richmond County's page. It took a little longer for her to find property records in Columbia County and Aiken County but she found both.

"This is what we are looking for, real property," said Brissie.

Now, it is on to code enforcement complaints.

"It was kind of surprising 2009 but not 2018 or 2019," said Brissie.

Richmond County has a complaint database online but it's dated. It's still better than Columbia and Aiken counties.

"It just gives information I don't think it gives the actual complaints," said Brissie.

Neither post code enforcement complaints.

Last but not least is the budget.

"2018 budget it’s a pdf," said Brissie.

Diana found the budgets for Richmond and Aiken counties but couldn't locate it on Columbia County's website. It's there but again the search button made it hard for her to find.
We found that Richmond County’s information online is very accessible. It's also very user-friendly but the complaint database outdated.

Columbia County is also accessible but Diana did not find it user-friendly. It is difficult to find the information.

It is the same with Aiken County. Most of the information is there but for a new user like Diana, it can be confusing to find.

"I think government should be transparent so it should be user-friendly for all citizens to find the information they're looking for," said Brissie.