Courts, lawmakers give transparency a boost in Georgia, New Mexico

Two states are making strides in improving transparency in government. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Monday that votes taken in open meetings must be recorded, even if they are not roll-call votes. In New Mexico, the Senate has just approved a bill that will make information about employees of government contractors available online to the public through a state managed web portal.

The Georgia ruling, Cardinale v. the City of Atlanta was the result of a lawsuit filed by Matthew Cardinale, a local first Amendment activist, against the City of Atlanta over failure by city council members to record non-roll-call votes at a February 2010 retreat. The decision reverses a Court of Appeals ruling that existing open meetings rules which do not require meeting minutes to reflect non-roll call votes.

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Carol Hunstein said, “While the act provides for public access to agency meetings, it also fosters openness by, among other things, requiring agencies to generate meeting minutes that are open to public inspection so that members of the public unable to attend a meeting nonetheless may learn what occurred. …To adopt a contrary holding that agencies possess discretion to decline to record the names of those voting against a proposal or abstaining in the case of a non-roll-call vote would potentially deny non-attending members of the public access to information available to those who attended a meeting.”

In New Mexico, the Senate has approved an amendment to the state’s “Sunshine Portal,” that will require the state to post the names and salaries of a state contractor’s employees. The bill is somewhat controversial, as opponents of the measure feel that it is unfair to require privately contracted employees to have their salaries disclosed on a public website, however the measure is largely supported by transparency advocates.

The bill is the latest move by state lawmakers to increase the transparency of state government. As CivSource reported recently, the state also asked for input on the state budget from citizens in an effort to increase civic engagement and create more awareness about state budget priorities.

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