So why does Augusta have the second highest high tech job growth in the country? I can only speculate, but local government transparency could be a factor. If you had a high tech company and were looking to open an office, would you go for a place where you couldn't tell what the local governments were up to, or one where you could easily find out? Augusta's combined City Council and County Commission meetings (it's a consolidated government) are on video, online. Their agendas are available in either HTML or PDF, with attachments.
Here's an example, their 5 December 2012 Commission Meeting. It includes a proposed amendment to their land subdivision code. The actual proposed ordinance is linked right into the agenda so everybody can see it.
And yes, they link attachments into their agendas before their meetings; here's Augusta's agenda for their meeting tomorrow 18 December 2012, already with attachments, such as this one about a zoning exception, which was apparently submitted on a standard agenda submittal form, and approved by the Clerk of Commission.
Meanwhile, the outgoing Lowndes County Chairman complained the Chamber of Commerce hadn't read a proposed zoning code change even though that change is not linked into the agenda (nor is anything else) and last year the same Chairman said no drafts would be published. Tuesday last week, Lowndes County Commissioners passed changes to the solid waste ordinance and to the alcohol ordinance that voters and taxpayers and business owners did not get to see before the Commission voted on them. Those ordinances seem to be on the county website now that it's too late to provide input on them: alcohol and waste. Both ordinances were revised with no public hearings. And the Chairman even forgot to hold a scheduled public hearing on special tax lighting districts. Oh, and they apparently now have property owners paying on almost $9 million in bonds for a county palace that only two years ago they said was already completely paid off out of sales taxes.
If you had a high tech company and were looking to open an office, would you choose transparent Richmond County or secretive Lowndes County, where you don't know who's rezoning what, or how Commissioners are changing the zoning code, or what ordinances they're passing, or when sales taxes might get shifted to property taxes?
It's not so much that Augusta and Richmond County are special in local government transparency. As we've previously seen, Glynn County, Georgia even streams their meetings on live video. Leon County, Florida, and Travis County, Texas, post agendas with attachments before their meetings and add videos afterwards. Both the Valdosta and Lowndes County school boards often include attachments along with their agendas.
What's special is the Lowndes County Commission: special in secrecy. Except many of the local appointed boards and agencies are even less transparent, with no posted agendas or minutes or even membership lists. Does this seem right to you?