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"Government belongs to us"

The Georgia College Press Association and Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism teamed up to provide concerned citizens, lawmakers, students, and members of the media with insight into government transparency protocols. “It’s important to educate students,” said Jessica Farmer, Coordinator for the Georgia College Press Association.

The event on Oct. 17 had presentations from Jim Zachary, Director of the Transparency Project of Georgia, and Holly Manheimer of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation as well as an afternoon roundtable discussion.

Following an introduction from Zachary, Manhemier began the talks with an overview of open records laws in the state. Manhemier began by explain the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). According to the Department of Justice website, FOIA was  passed on July 4, 1966. The act “provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.” Manheimer would go on to say that those seeking information from their city, county or state would abide by the Open Records Act.

Manheimer then addressed electronic communication. In today’s technological climate, electronic means of communication is a hotly contested point of debate. “We aren’t just talking about an 11’ by 8’ piece of paper anymore,” Manhemier said. Texts and e-mails are covered by FOIA. Manheimer advised the audience to act on a rule of thumb that all records are accessible. “Push back when a public official says something is not subject to release,” Manhemier said.

Once a request is filed, the agency must respond in three days. However, there are some exceptions. If an individual walks into a police station and asks for an incident report from a police case that is readily available, they are required to release it. “The agency can’t wait three business days just because the statute says three business days,” said Manhemier. “If it’s there and it’s ready, it needs to be produced.”

Following her presentation, Zachary took the podium and told the audience that our government is not required by law to meet behind closed doors for any purpose. “That is one of the biggest misnomers by local officials,” said Zachary. “There is a provision but no requirement.” Zachary went on to say that every time the government went behind closed doors, they choose to do it.

At the end of his presentation, Zachary stressed the importance of being involved and holding government accountable. “Information is the currency of democracy,” said Zachary. “The best defense is a strong offensive. Open government advocates and the media need to advocate for ordinary people.” At the end of his presentation, Zachary brought the idea full circle. “It is up to all of us to build a culture of government transparency across the state of Georgia,” he said. “Government belongs to us.”

The meeting marked the first of several statewide events. To learn more about the symposiums and open government laws, visit or

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