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Columbia County to put public documents online

In a move to increase transparency and public access to county documents, the Columbia County Board of Commissioners will soon start posting meeting documents and related content online.

On Wednesday, March 18, the board unanimously approved a policy, called “Documents Added to Online Commission Meeting Agendas,” that will go into effect May 1.

FISHER

Columbia County is one of the only governing bodies in the county that doesn’t provide digital copies of agenda packets, resolutions and ordinances to be voted on with its online meeting agendas.

Last year, commissioners said they were committed to increasing public access to information about the matters the board votes on each week, but the implementation has been slow.

According to the new policy, “all documents listed for approval on the consent agenda, ordinances under consideration, and documents submitted for discussion will be posted to the County website.”

Documents that contain personnel information or personal data, including email addresses, won’t be posted. The policy also exempts the list of the county’s weekly payables from default online disclosure.

HEIMULLER

Commissioners swiftly approved the policy with six other items all at once, offering no discussion or explanation of the new policy.

The board’s chairman, Henry Heimuller, did not respond to requests for comment.

“The County recognizes that the public has shown an interest in reviewing documents under consideration by the Board of Commissioners on its regular meeting agenda, including contracts, ordinances, etc.,” the policy states. “Although documents under consideration are available for inspection at the Board’s office, the Board recognizes that posting certain documents on the County website can increase citizen access to those documents.”

The policy points out more than once that state law does not require the county to post documents online.

HYDE

Bill Allen regularly attends the board’s weekly meetings and has been an advocate of the county providing supplemental information online. Allen saying weekly board meetings and agendas lack meaning unless the public has supporting information to explain each agenda item.

After the new policy was adopted, Allen wasn’t convinced it would truly provide transparency.

“My gut reaction when I read it is they’re doing us a favor, they’re throwing us a bone,” Allen said, characterizing the policy as a “weak” effort to appease the public. “It’s been an awful long time coming.”

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