Thursday, March 09, 2006

Open Government Austin blog born!

So, in light of all the misinformation that is floating out there about the Open Government Online amendment this blog about the amendment and the campaign to make Austin a leader in open access is born.

Special thanks to the City for the free wireless connection at City Hall, which has allowed us to create this blog despite being forced to wait for the City's latest attempt to send a depth charge towards clean government during open session. Today (Thursday), the City is trying to set the ballot language for the amendment with half-truths and mis-statements about what the OGO does.

Today's Austin Chronicle said to look for Brewster McCracken to lead the charge against the amendment "and to harm his case by overstating it." McCracken's "doomsday version of the proposal conjures child pornographers slithering one step ahead of the law – for, in his estimation, police investigating cybercrime fall under the officials required to disclose all their contacts. That probably ain't the case, but it shows how much fun the amendment will engender."

This language is extremely important for Austin voters, as this is what shows up on the voting machines on the day of the election. We can only hope (and wait for council to reconvene) that the City won't inject spurious and misleading text into the ballot language.


At 12:47 PM, Anonymous Kirk Mitchell said...

Good! We will need this blog to ferret out and counteract the Big Lies of the monopoly press as the campaign for the charter amendments moves forward to election day. Regrettably, The Chronicle has for many years failed to appreciate its potential value as a deterrent to the monopoly disinformation spin of the American Statesman and city officials. I am counting on you to meet this need for getting the truth out.

At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I look forward to hearing what you have to say and how the city titles the ammendments. I am not sure I support the ammendments, but perhaps I need to read them in their entirety. How about posting them here for all to read so we can decide on what they say on our own. Is it true that the language in them cannot be changed?

At 2:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All these documents exist in electronic form and are stored on servers anyhow. All that needs to be done is to make documents public. It's ridiculous that state government has had a telephone directory on line for over a decade that's updated with nearly every employee's direct telephone number while city government tries to hide who does what and how many employees are in each department, funneling everything through a very few telephone numbers. The city government website search functions are a joke also. Police information such as district representatives is never updated.

At 4:24 PM, Blogger Kathy Mitchell said...

Here's the actual initiative language. The most controversial provision requires top officials (city council members and the top brass) to keep a log of their contacts and meetings. That's it. Anyone who bills by the hour (or if you are a lawyer, by the 15 minute increment) keeps a log. City officials spend the vast majority of their time with paid lobbyists. If they have to log that time, maybe they will remember to spend some time with their constituents.

But the best things about this initiative have gotten little attention. It will open up the now secret process for negotiating tax abatement deals. It will open up records of police misconduct to the same extent they are open at the Travis County Sherrif's Department and thousands of other police agencies (APD is significantly less accountable than most police departments). It will give the public access to the electronic (online) development permitting process. The city created a system but never intended the public to have access to all these clearly public records.

Finally, this initiative envisions a city that moves steadily in the direction of better and better public, online access to public information.

What I've noticed so far--every city official says "I support open government, but" and goes on to explain why they don't, in fact, support opening government in any particular way that counts. They vociferously want to keep doing things they way they have always done them, and its really time for the secrecy to stop.

I'm really glad to see this blog and hope that we get a quick post soon updating us on what's happening down there right now as they decide what terrible language will be placed on the ballot to describe this good citizen measure.


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