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  • what’s the story here?

    Here’s the plan…

    The Internet brims over with opinion. Facts? Not so much.

    We want to restore the balance. We dig up & share public records on ethics and transparency in public institutions. Tips, documents & feedback are welcome. We also offer tutorials (we know, it’s geeky) so you, too, can dig up public records.

    Do it yourself investigation.

    You can look up liens for back taxes or other debts in the property record room at your county courthouse. For a fee, a statewide database of liens and property records can be searched online at the Georgia Superior Court Clerks’ Cooperative Authority.

    The GSCCCA database is not foolproof, though. A thorough search of Fulton County’s property records, for instance, will require a visit to the courthouse. That’s because Fulton County’s records are, to use a technical term, screwed up. Some fairly recent records have been lost so some lien cancellations, among other things, are not indexed properly. Some cancellations are not recorded by the clerk for a year of more after they are filed. In one instance, the tax commissioner did not cancel the lien after it had been paid off.

    Do it yourself campaign investigation.

    The State Ethics Commission’s Web site provides the tools to analyze campaign funds for candidates for state office:

    1. Click “Search by Expenditure” and enter a name in “Individual or Entity.” (This will find donations from political action committees or other candidates.)  Print the results or download them into Excel.
    2. Click “Search by Name” to view a candidate’s reports of donations received. These can also be downloaded.
    3. Compare the results from steps 1 and 2 to match up donors’ names, dates and amounts.
    4. To compare contributions made before 2006, visit  the Georgia Secretary of State’s Web site. Most campaign reports here cannot be searched electronically. They must be printed out and compared visually.

    Do it yourself corruption investigation.

    Most public corruption cases in Georgia are prosecuted in federal court. The U.S. attorney for North Georgia, including metro Atlanta, has an excellent Web site with archived news releases on prominent cases.

    Federal court files may be searched online for a nominal fee through PACER. (The first $10 a year of searches are free.)

    With the right keywords, online search engines will also turn up news releases or court rulings on a particular case at no cost.

    You can also search the Georgia and federal prison systems to find inmates and their crimes.

    Do it yourself salary investigation.

    – The size of any public employee’s paycheck is public information. Ask at your city hall or county courthouse.

    – Past years’ pay for any state worker, including local school employees, can be searched at the State Auditor’s Web site. (This data does not include local pay supplements often paid to teachers, judges and others.)

    – Non-profit groups, since they are tax-exempt, must file tax returns showing top salaries and other spending. The groups must make recent returns available to the public on request. Guidestar.com also lets you look up a group’s three most recent returns online for free.

    – Publicly traded companies must report pay for executives and boards of directors to the Securities and Exchange Commission, which offers an online search. Select a company and look for its DEF 14A report.


     

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