Sunday, March 12, 2006

Austin's Open Government Online Amendment Analyzed

"What's really in Austin's Open Government Online charter amendment? Is it really so detailed and incomprehensible? See for yourself.

"Jordan Hatcher of the Electronic Frontier Foundation-Austin and Kathy Mitchell, president of the Central Texas chapter of the ACLU, have produced this section-by-section analysis of the proposed Austin charter amendment and what it does. Here's the document (rtf)."
From ACLU of Texas


At 7:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK. Don't shoot the messenger on this one, but I do have a thought. Let SOS die on this hill, and then try again. Remove SOS and the ACLU as the foremost supporters. Try for a broader coalition of support that makes incremental progress towards the goals without being so blatantly obvious (on the part of SOS) that this is really about AMD and stopping all westward-ho growth. Then take a well thought out proposal to city staff and Council with actual cost estimates from private firms. Don't just bitch and moan that the City numbers are too high. Prove it with an actual proposal and cost estimates. Do your homework instead of asking the City to do it for you.

Here are some primary problems with this ammendment:

1) It is a Charter Ammendment and not simply resolution
2) It is being forced on the Council and Staff by a small group of what some consider extreme groups
3) The language is not fully clear and concise, and the goals are too far reaching
4) There charter ammendment is one of two -- with part two being an obvious swipe at AMD. This will not give voters the idea that this is good solid change, but rather retribution politics at its finest.

I love the idea of open government. I hate the idea of poorly worded ammendments to the City charter. And I frankly think that that louder a small group of what some perceive as "extremist" groups yell and holler, the better chance we have of achieving absolutely nothing.

In other words, try again. And take more time to think instead of letting SOS rush you into this in their war with AMD. Let Bill and Hector fight this out between the two of them, and leave the charter well enough alone.

At 8:03 AM, Blogger JS Hatcher said...

If I may respond to a few things. This is a broader coalition than just the ACLU and SOS, and has been from the beginning. Neighborhood groups, EFF-Austin, and the Gray Panthers, among others, support this amendment and contributed to its creation. Anyone that has had to deal with the City repeatedly on open records or finding out development information knows the reason behind this amendment: The City has not been a good player on access.

This is beyond AMD. This is about access to the information concerning our city .

As far as "doing the homework", this is a perfect example of why we need this amendment. The City controls the information about how much this would cost, and therefore it is impossible to price it out exactly beforehand. But even if it costs as much as the City says, they DO NOT count in all the savings that we will receive through wasted development incentives and through less time spent complying with open records requests.

Just as an example of how open access to contribute to pubic debate, please see Scott Brown's article on the possibilities of using open source to implement the amendment.

The City wants you to believe that they develop perfect legislation through their process, and that somehow this amendment is poorly worded becomes it comes through the Initiative and Referendum process. This isn't true. The City produces bad and imperfect legislation all the time. The OGO has had more input from more attorneys and has produced an amendment that specifically targets certain areas and sets policy goals for the city.

Naming specific section of the Texas Government Code seems, to me, about as precise as you can get. After sitting down with the amendment, or the section-by-section analysis, and reading it, it becomes clear how precise this amendment is.

At 7:13 PM, Anonymous DavidB said...

"finding out development information"

"But even if it costs as much as the City says, they DO NOT count in all the savings that we will receive through wasted development incentives"

Now, tell me again that this is not about AMD and other economic growth issues? Economic incentives are how we compete for jobs with other cities. They are not wasted my friend.

At 11:12 AM, Blogger JS Hatcher said...

Economic development incentives are important. No doubt about it. The OGO doesn't prevent the City from offering incentives; it just requires that the process be open to the public so that we can make sure that the incentives aren't wasted. Wasted by not being competitive or by giving too much for too little. Yes, this applies to AMD for future incentives they may ask for, just like it applies to any business trying to squeeze out taxpayer dollars.


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