Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunshine Week

Today is the first day of Sunshine Week, an annual event designed to focus on not just transparency in government, but accountability as well. The emphasis of this year's campaign is local records, particularly those posted online. So how does the Shoals stack up?

If you live in Franklin County, not technically a part of the Shoals, you have absolutely no online access to public records. Neither Franklin nor its county seat of Russellville has an official site where records are available for public consumption. This survey (see link below) did not consider privately funded websites or sites erected by such public entities as fire and police departments.

Looking north to Colbert County, we find a website for the county, but not for the county seat of Tuscumbia. The city of Muscle Shoals does provide a site at which some of its records may be obtained; it is the only municipality within Colbert to do so.

Moving on to Lauderdale County, the availability of online records increases, but is still found to be wanting. For instance, the website connects to one offering court dockets, but once there we find only the most recently completed docket, with no information concerning future trials. Inside Lauderdale, only the county seat of Florence provides a website where any such records may be easily obtained.

Obviously, this area has far to go. I think it's safe to say it won't improve until we call our elected officials accountable and demand an increase in easy access to these public records.

To see how other Alabama counties stack up, check out this year's Sunshine Project from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa: