12 on 12: Use these links whenever you want to look something up that's public record!

Tuesday, March 12, 2019
News 12 at 6 O'Clock

NORTH AUGUSTA, SC (WRDW/WAGT) -- This week is Sunshine Week, or as it's known in the News 12 NBC 26 newsroom every week. That's because every day, we request and review public information. Our I-Team filed more than 260 open records requests last year, but you don't have to be a reporter to ask for information.

Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Information often go hand in hand, but they are two very different things. As journalists, we don't have special access; we have the same access you do. We get information from a lot of sources, and you can too.

Here's our top 12 on 12.

12. CRIME STATS FOR YOUR CHILD'S SCHOOL:
Georgia: http://www.gadoe.org/AYP/Pages/USCO.aspx(towards the bottom)
South Carolina: https://ed.sc.gov/districts-schools/school-safety/discipline-related-reports/persistently-dangerous-schools/ (on the right)

11. DISCIPLINARY ACTIONS AGAINST TEACHERS:
South Carolina lists all disciplinary actions taken against every teacher in every district.

Georgia's list is not comnprehensive; you have to search by a specific teacher's name.

10. CONTRACTORS:
It happens all the time. A contractor tells you they are licensed, but that doesn't mean they have the right license for a particular job. For example, Henry Bryant has a limited license, but Augusta Planning and Development confirms he didn't have the correct type of licence for two home addition projects our I-Team has been investigating. An Open Records Request also showed he was spraying chemicals for Augusta. The State confirms he doesn't have a license for that, either.

Here is where you can check contractor licenses:
Georgia: http://verify.sos.ga.gov/verification/
South Carolina: https://verify.llronline.com/LicLookup/Contractors/Contractor.aspx?div=69&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1
In Augusta, you can also call Planning and Development to verify a contractor you hire has the appropriate license for a particular project. You can call 706) 821-1796 if you want to get that question answered.

9. ALL PROFESSIONAL LICENSES:
Georgia:
Click here if you want to search by business name:
Click here if you want to search by a person's name:
The Better Business Bureau is also a good place to look. There is no fee.

8. CHARITIES:
Never give a charity any money before double-checking it has been registered with the Secretary of State's Office.
Georgia: http://sos.ga.gov/index.php/securities/registered_charities_search
South Carolina: http://www.sos.sc.gov/search%20charities

7. BUILDING PERMITS:
These will require you to file an Open Records Request, but, by law, you have access to building permits.
Augusta:
Columbia County:
https://www.columbiacountyga.gov/county/commissions/board-of-commissioners/public-records-request
Aiken County: https://www.aikencountysc.gov/Forms/ADM_FOIA.pdf

6. CRIME BY ADDRESS:
This will require you to file an Open Records Request. You simply give an address to the appropriate law enforcement agency, and ask for all incident reports tied to it. Here are two sample letters to help you draft your own.
Georgia: https://www.nfoic.org/georgia-sample-foia-request
South Carolina: https://www.nfoic.org/south-carolina-sample-foia-request

5. BAD LANDLORDS:
Avoid getting locked into a rental nightmare by searching the complaint database on the county's website. Get more detailed information by asking code enforcement for their history on the rental. Their records contain complaints from past tenants and current and past code violations.

Here is how our I-Team used public information to expose a system breakdown involving landlords and repairs.

4. WHERE SEX OFFENDERS LIVE:
This is a quick and easy search online thorugh the online sex offender registry, and is probably worth a look if you have kids.
Georgia: https://gbi.georgia.gov/georgia-sex-offender-registry
South Carolina:

3. DAYCARE DATA:
Did you know daycare checks and violations are public information and right at your fingertips?

Open Records requests in Georgia.
Georgia: Federal Reporting Data.
South Carolina
Request data and/or file a comploaint in South Carolina. (click on your county for the appropiate contact person)

2. HOSPITALS AND NURSING HOMES:
Even though the vast majority of personal health information is private, quite a bit of hospital data is public so you can compare.
Medicare’s Hospital Compare:
You can also search and compare nursing homes.
Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare:
You can also see how much money your doctor gets from pharmaceutical companies every year. That could influence what medicines or procedures your doctor recommends. Here is where you can search.
Here's what our I-Team found.

1. COURT RECORDS:
There's a wealth of information in court depositions and exhibits, including pictures and video.
We're not just talking about criminal, we're talking civil - lawsuits against local businesses or people. Once introduced in court, they become public record. Depositions can be especially helpful getting to the truth because the person is under oath. Most of these will require a visit to the clerk of court to get the information. Make sure you bring cash; some municipalities (especially the smaller ones) might require it. There's often a fee per page that is printed.