International group explores government transparency

Kennesaw—Georgia First Amendment Foundation founding board member Carolyn Carlson recently welcomed visitors from Egypt, Iraq and Tunisia to Kennesaw State University for a session on how government transparency and access to public information support democracy.

The visitors, public officials, academics and open government advocates in their home countries, are participants in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.

Pictured left to right: Fares Besrour, Chargé de Mission, Head of Government Cabinet, Head of the Government in Tunisia; Barbara Gainey, Carolyn Carlson and Dean Robin Dorff of KSU; Walaa Gadelkarim Mahmoud Osman, Director Manager, Partners for Transparency in Egypt; KSU President Sam Olens; Bassem Karray, Associate Professor of Public Law, University of Sfax in Tunisia; Ahmed Khorsheed Tawfeeq, Spokesman, Kurdistan Democratic Party, Kirkuk Office in Iraq; and Nadia Gouta Ep Hamdi, Head of Department, General Directorate of Regional Development, Ministry of Development, Investment and International Cooperation in Tunisia.

During their Feb. 13 visit to KSU, the group met with Carlson, director of the university’s Journalism and Emerging Media program; KSU President Sam Olens, former Georgia attorney general, an expert on the state’s open records and meetings laws and recipient of the foundation’s Weltner Award; Kerwin Swint, chair of the KSU Department of Political Science and International Affairs; and Kenneth White, an associate professor of criminal justice and political science who is a former board member of Common Cause Georgia.

“We had a robust discussion about our American democracy and how access to government records and activities was the key to our stability as a democracy that has survived for 250 years,” Carlson said.

Olens’ perspective as a former statewide elected official was of particular interest to the group. During the two-hour session, he explained the open government-related enforcement mechanisms of the Georgia attorney general’s office. Carlson described the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s mission and activities educating members of the public, journalists, lawyers and government officials about the state’s open records and open meetings laws. Swint discussed how the nonprofit Common Cause Georgia encourages public participation in democracy and pushes for accountability of public officials and institutions.

The international visitors will travel in the U.S. for several more weeks, seeking insights into how government transparency works in America.