Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Today's Statesman shows why we need the OGO

This editorial in today's Statesman reads like a laundry list of why we need open government and explains why there has been such a negative reaction on the part of the City to this amendment. Among the list are the need for development information to be easily accessible, the need to know about civil suit settlements, the need to know about Police misconduct, and the need to prevent backroom development deals. All things that the Open Government Online Amendment will require the City to disclose.

The editorial also shows why the City doesn't like it. As the author put it, top City officials are falling prey to the urge to “hold secrets, hide documents and keep voters and taxpayers in the dark.” This helps to explain why the Initiative and Referendum process is the only way this kind of clean government can happen. Only outsiders, with no stake in keeping the secrets, can get this sort of reform out for a vote. The City Councilmembers and other top officials such as the City Manager, with a direct incentive to keep the public outside of the system would never come up with this kind of reform on their own. As a result, concerned citizens organized and pushed for reform by asking (and receiving) the signatures of over 20,000 registered Austin voters to give the people of Austin the chance to say how their government should be run.


At 12:29 PM, Blogger Tim said...

I agree. But was the amendment vetted by open govt. professionals? I know the Council changed the language, but I'm worried that the original amendment was so vague as to allow them to distort its meaning. And if Austinites don't vote for this due to the midleading smokescreens being put out there, will there be another chance for an open govt. vote?

The Statesman is schizophrenic about this amendment. On one hand, they're pursuing the story, but their editorial writers are badmouthing the amendment at the same time. The editorial voice guiding these different factions is lacking.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger JS Hatcher said...

As to the question about vetting, Kathy Mitchell, for example, has taught Continuing Legal Education courses for lawyers on open records law and has lobbied the Texas legislature on these issues. Scott Henson has worked continuously over the years on police accountability and open access for the ACLU, among others. Virtually all participants had practical experience in working with the City on open records requests.

Naming specific sections of the Texas Government Code is about as specific as you can get. The City is distorting the meaning through bad interpretation of the general requirement that the City move to conduct business online. This gives them some freedom to interpret, which is necessary. But the City is using this chance to read in some things that are clearly not there.

Many of the reforms asked for in the OGO are probably only possible through the Initiative and Referendum process. So if Council doesn't cave to popular pressure and propose change on its own, getting 20,000 voter signatures is the only way you are likely to see this again.


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