Open government

The state’s first Open Government Symposium will be held in Macon Friday.

VALDOSTA — The state’s first Open Government Symposium will be held in Macon Friday.

The free event kicks off a series of symposiums to be held around the state of Georgia in an effort to incubate a culture of government transparency, according to organizers.

Valdosta Daily Times Editor Jim Zachary, who is director of the Transparency Project of Georgia, and colleague Holly Manheimer, who is the director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, have organized the symposium and will provide the training while sharing their experiences in open government advocacy.

Valdosta State University Professor Dr. Patricia Miller, journalism advisor, will join Zachary and Manheimer, along with investigative reporter Oby Brown, of the Telegraph in Macon, for an open forum and roundtable discussion at the symposium.

The event, being held at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University, is free and open to the public.

Organizers are encouraging elected officials, government attorneys, records custodians, journalists, community activists, students and anyone who has an interest in transparency and more accountable government to attend.

“Open government is better government, and we think the climate for government transparency in Georgia needs to improve,” Zachary said. “We are not against government, but we are for taxpayers and ordinary citizens who are often frustrated when it comes to their access to records and meetings.”

The agenda for the symposium includes four sessions, beginning at 10 a.m.

• Open Records: It’s the Law (Manheimer)

• Open Meetings: It’s the Law (Manheimer)

• Why Government Transparency Matters (Zachary)

• Open forum and round table discussion (Zachary, Manheimer, Miller, Brown and attendees)

“We have had a great response from journalists and students so far, but we hope more public officials will take this opportunity to further educate themselves on the principles of open government,” Zachary said.

Journalists and student journalists from Valdosta will also be attendance at the symposium.

“We are creating a culture at the Valdosta Daily Times where we simply have the expectation that government is always open and transparent and each of our reporters will be well-versed in the state’s Open Meeting Act and Open Records Act,” the editor said.  

Zachary has been a leading voice for government transparency in Georgia.

He was awarded the David E. Hudson Open Government Award this year and received the Georgia Press Association Freedom of Information Award in 2014 and 2013, along with statewide and national awards for editorial writing, reporting and public service.

He came to the Valdosta Daily Times this year and continues to serve as the director of the statewide Transparency Project.

Manheimer began work as the first and only executive director of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation in Jan. 1996.  She graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College; received a Master’s in English from New York University; earned her Juris Doctorate from Emory University Law School; and received a Master’s in communication from Georgia State University.  When not serving the foundation, she practices law with Stuckey & Manheimer, Inc. and serves as a part-time judge of the DeKalb County Recorders Court.

The Open Government Symposium will be held Friday, Oct. 17, from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. at the Center for Collaborative Journalism, located in Mercer Village at Mercer University, 1675 Montpelier, Macon, GA. While there is no registration fee, individuals or groups planning to attend are encouraged to RSVP by emailing zacharyjim@gmail.co.

Local officials urged to attend

MACON — County commissioners, city council members, mayors, members of boards of education, records custodians and government attorneys are being encouraged to attend the state’s first Open Government Symposium.

The event will be held in Macon Friday, Oct. 17, at the Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University, beginning at 10 a.m.  

Topics will include open records, open meetings and the principles of government transparency, along with an open forum and roundtable discussion.

Jim Zachary, director of the Transparency Project of Georgia said, “This is a unique opportunity for local public officials to look at the principles of government transparency in a more academic, non-threatening environment that will be very different from the training they receive from the municipal association or their own legal teams.”

Zachary will be joined by Georgia First Amendment Foundation Director Holly Manheimer, VSU Professor Patricia Miller and Oby Brown of The Telegraph - Macon for the symposium.

“Discussions will go beyond mere compliance with the letter of the law. These presentations will focus on both what the law requires and the intent of the legal requirements,” Zachary said. “When you think about it, nearly all issues that taxpayers, voters, ordinary citizens have with their government end up being about government transparency. While a lot of public servants talk about open government and being accessible, it is important they take the opportunity to step back and look at these issues through the eyes of the people they are elected to represent. We believe the symposium will give them the opportunity to do exactly that.”

The event is much closer than typical government staff development opportunities in Atlanta, is free and does not require overnight travel, unlike a lot of training, workshops and seminars attended by public officials, Zachary said.

“Taking part in the this symposium will send a strong message to constituents and will demonstrate at least some level of commitment to the principles of open government by elected officials,” he said.

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