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What Price for Transparency?

ACC wants to charge $33.67 an hour for access to public records.

During , Athens Clarke County Commissioners suggested changing the way the county provides employees with health care coverage. Some employees were not being charged for the cost of their health care.

The people not being charged, it was said, had been promised this benefit when the city and county governments unified in 1990. Which means that for 20 years, some Athens Clarke County employees paid nothing for health insurance.

Mayor Denson said during budget discussions that there wasn’t a formal contract, just a promise. She herself was a long-time county employee, serving for many years as the county’s tax commissioner.

Commissioners said that doing away with this benefit would allow night-time buses to continue running most of the evening. Which would allow people to travel to and back from their jobs.

Athens Patch decided to explore the health care issue further. Patch wanted to find out more about the no-charge benefit: who got it, how much other employees pay for their health insurance coverage, the different options available for health care, and how much the no-charge benefit has cost the county over the past 20 years.

Athens Patch called John Culpepper in finance. He directed us to Lisa Ward in Human Resources, who then directed us to Harry Owens. Mr. Owens said we could have the information we wanted after June 7.

Athens Patch said we wanted the information before June 7, the day when the Commission votes on the budget. We wanted to determine how much the no-pay benefit has cost and would cost the county, if it were continued.

So we filed an electronic Open Records Request with the . We expected to schedule a meeting to review records, take notes and perhaps make a few copies in order to write a story.

We believed, and believe, that our readers would want to know who doesn’t pay for health care. Because most of our readers do pay, or have paid, for health care coverage themselves.

At 4:58 on Friday afternoon, a reply came from Mr. Owens. It said

"the estimated cost in staff time to search, retrieve, copy and supervise access to the requested records is estimated to be $405.00 for 12 hours at $33.67 per hour to cover the administrative costs of assisting you with your request. This fee represents the salary of the lowest paid full-time employee who possesses the skill and training to perform the request. Of course if it takes less or more time than estimated you will be charged the actual costs. You will also be charged 25 cents for each page of the records you request to have copied. It is estimated that the records you requested will be approximately 375 pages."

Mr. Owens’ reply also said Athens Patch could come to the Human Resources Department on or after June 9.

Athens Patch has got to wonder who in local government makes $33.67 an hour. And why it should take 12 hours to track down information on health care options that should be available to every employee and dollar figures that go out with every paycheck. And why Mr. Owens suggests Athens Patch look at records after the June 7 meeting.

Who knew transparency could be so costly?

frankjohnson01 June 04, 2011 at 05:22 AM
Let me tell you one thing that the best health insurance plans has completely different set of meaning for different type of people. For those who are rich, the plan which can earn them more is best. However, those who are in the middle class have different ideas. They think that insurance plan is the best for which they will have to pay minimum premium. However, the poor person does not even know that what is health insurance? If you are one of them search online for "Penny Health Insurance" and get smart about insurance.
Marie June 04, 2011 at 04:25 PM
First, I am not happy with the fact that many government employees, not just ACC employees, are given free health care. This is especially irritating to me since university employees pay more for health care than other state employees (at least those who are are not given free health care). Second, it is disturbing that Harry Owens relayed such a message to you. It is totally unresponsive and revolting. if in fact it takes someone 12 hours at a cost of $33.67 an hour to find this information then the ACC department has overpaid, inadequate workers. We deserve better service than that. I firmly believe that until we all have free health insurance then no federal, state, or local government employee should have free insurance. Why should you and I have to pay for their health care when we can't even afford our own coverage? Shame on ACC government.
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) June 04, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Dear Marie, thanks for writing. I was astounded that Mr. Owens insisted I file an Open Records Request in the first place. I've never had a response like that from ACC Government, and I've been dealing with them for 20 years. Someone in the government told me the 20 percent of employees who get free health care get it because it's a benefit since their salaries are so low. Well, like you, I worked at UGA for peanuts, and I still had to pay for my health insurance. So I don't buy that argument. I agree personally with your sentiment, and I believe the Commissioners do, too, because they are going to do away with it. Yay! But remember: Our Mayor wanted to keep it. She would have preferred to do away with night bus service instead......I am astounded at that as well....
Meg Dure June 04, 2011 at 08:36 PM
This whole story astounds me Rebecca. Like you, I worked for peanuts at the newspaper and the university. And I too paid for my health insurance...a single working mother of two. Just can't believe that the lowest paid worker in the office earns over $30 an hour. This is quite an eye-opener.
Shaye June 15, 2011 at 04:49 PM
I'm sure the $33/hr figure is some kind of combination of hourly worker + utilities cost of the office/hr. + what else, maybe a free lunch?! Still, yes, outrageous. I don't think Owens has represented himself well in this case. I would still like to know who was on that roster!
Rebecca McCarthy (Editor) June 15, 2011 at 05:56 PM
Well, we never will know because the information is exempted by the weak Georgia Open Records Act. But I'm going to find out what I can.
Shaye June 15, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Thank you for staying on this!

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