As part of a research initiative at MIT GOV/LAB at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), we measured the degree of transparency of local government websites across the United States. This report is based on data gathered through a combination of automated and manual procedures and is part of a larger project on government transparency in the United States.
We graded Athens’s website on six basic indicators that measure whether the website posts basic information about how the government operates. We measured whether the government site posted the following: (1) a recent budget, (2) a recent comprehensive annual financial report (CAFR), (3) town council meeting agendas, (4) town council meeting minutes, (5) instructions on how to make public records requests, and (6) information on public bids.
We graded all local governments in the state of Georgia. Here’s how Athens stacks up:
We assigned grades as follows: A is 6/6, B+ is 5/6, B is 4/6, C+ is 3/6, C is 2/6, D is 1/6, F is 0/6.
The most common Grade in Georgia is an A, but many towns received a worse grade. The following graphic shows the frequency of each grade across the state:
The following graphic compares Athens transparency grade to the 10 Georgia towns closest to Athens.
According to the 2010 census, Athens has a population of 106,269. The following graphic compares Athens’s transparency grade to the 10 Georgia towns with the most similar population.
As a principle, government officials have a responsibility to act visibly, predictably, and understandably so as to promote accountability and citizen participation. Without the easy availability of information about the government’s most important decisions, citizens and journalists can have difficult time identifying problems that need to be addressed. In the worst cases, lack of information can hide corruption and malfeasance. For an example of how lack of transparency goes hand in hand with corruption, see this 2013 article on a grand jury report on practices in Clayton County, GA: https://on-ajc.com/2MvBff0.
In addition to facilitating accountability, increased transparency can increase confidence in the government. If a local government makes information about its decision-making and actions more easily available, this increased transparency can signal to the public that it is trustworthy.