Friday, April 14, 2006

Some winners and losers under the OGO

Like any change, there will be some winners and losers under new legislation such as the Open Government Online (OGO) amendment. There are several groups that will benefit from greater openness and transparency here in Austin:
  • Austin Taxpayers – The amendment will save money in the long term from streamlining the open records process, by giving Austin better development and tax abatement deals, and by exposing waste and inefficiency in city government;
  • Neighborhoods – The amendment will allow neighborhood groups to be early and effective participants in the development projects that directly affect their property values and their quality of life;
  • Community groups and individual citizens – Any community group or individual citizen that wishes to become more active in local politics will quickly and easily get the tools and information needed to become active participants in local issues;
  • Press – Members of the press will get complete and timely access to important issues and will, in many cases, not have to go through the laborious and sometimes expensive process of open records requests to get crucial information. The role of the press will be enhanced because reporters will be able to review complex documents in the timely fashion they need to meet tight deadlines, and the public still needs the independent and balanced assessment reporters can provide;
  • Council members – Council members need effective access to information about the City more than anyone. Opening up many of the records and information contained in the Open Government Online Amendment will allow Council members to more quickly and efficiently keep tabs on the wide variety of activities that make up City business;
  • City staff – Much like council members, city staff need effective and quick access to important documents. Under this amendment, policy manuals and other crucial documents will be available online for quick and easy reference;
  • City Auditor – The City Auditor’s office, which oversees Austin business, will have quick and easy access to important contracts and other documents needed for the effective oversight of city affairs;
  • Companies doing business with the City – Companies wishing to do business with the City will gain because they can get better feedback on their bids by easily analyzing winning contracts. This will allow them to become more competitive for future contracts by gaining insight into the contracting process;
  • Police officers – The majority of police officers follow all the rules and do their jobs without any taint of misconduct. Because police misconduct files are hidden, the majority of honest cops get the taint of misconduct every time there is an allegation of misconduct that can’t be cleared up or balanced by information about the actual record of most officers.
Some groups will not, of course, benefit from the Open Government Online Amendment:
  • Police officers with a history of misconduct – The small minority of officers that have committed some sort of misconduct will lose some of the secrecy that currently surrounds their behavior.
  • Special interest lobbyists – Any lobbyist or group that depends on keeping their meetings with officials a secret will lose the edge over the public that secrecy brings, but they will no doubt change with the new policies and continue to meet with council members and provide input into the processes that affect them.
  • Corporations bringing proposals not aligned with community interests – The Open Government Online Amendment makes community groups and neighborhood associations early participants in the development process. Any corporation trying to bring a development that is not aligned with community interests will no longer be able to use secrecy and delayed notices to shield their efforts.


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