- The Arizona Public Interest Research Group awarded Arizona an A-minus on how it helps taxpayers find information online pertaining to government spending. The high grade was mostly because of OpenBooks.az.gov, a state website that offers a searchable database of state expenditures. The launch of site raised Arizona’s grade from an F in 2010 to A-minus in 2011. Representative Kimberly Yee, the sponsor of legislation aimed at increasing government transparency, maintains,“People need to see where money is being spent so they can hold elected officials accountable. “ For more information, see Devin McIntyre ‘s post on the Tucson Sentinel.
- In honor of Sunshine Week, Kentucky’s Adair County Community Voice utilized citizens to perform a local records audit. According to the Kentucky Open Government Blog, “The weekly newspaper engaged eight ‘average citizens’ to seek specific records from eight public agencies and published the generally good findings in last week's paper, with an explanation of the audit and the issues, and an editorial by Editor-Publisher Sharon Burton giving her motives.” For the most part, the audit revealed that most institutions readily complied with the information requests. However, they found the least cooperation when they asked law-enforcement agencies for salary information. For the entire story, check out Al Cross’ post.
- This week, Tennessee lawmakers quietly sealed public records pertaining to education. The Senate State and Local Government Committee and the House State and Local Government Subcommittee passed bills to make the results of teacher evaluations confidential. According to KnoxNews, lawmakers used a questionable exception to exempt the teacher evaluations from the Public Records Act. "So much for transparency in government," laments Kent Flanagan, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. For the whole story, check out Jack McElory’s post on KnoxNews.
- In slightly related news, even though Tennessee’s state government ranks among the ten most transparent in the country, it earned a grade of C+ for its laws promoting transparency and punishing corruption. According to a report by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity, Tennessee sends a “mixed ethics message.” Elizabeth Bewley points out, “The report’s authors said Tennessee’s 2006 ethics reform bill has helped, but the Tennessee Ethics Commission created by the bill hasn’t lived up to expectations.” For her entire take, check out her post on the Tennesseean.
- The Jordan-Elbridge County school district held a training session for the public on the county’s open meetings law. State Supreme Court Judge Donald Greenwood has ruled that the Jordan-Elbridge board violated New York's open meetings law in the past. The training session was led by Robert Freeman, the executive director of the Committee on Open Government. Freeman hopes the sessions will alleviate mistrust citizens have in the school district regarding lack of transparency, maintaining, "I don't know details about the hostility that has been expressed in this school district but my hope of course is that knowledge of the law and when everybody hears the same question and the same answer at the same time it will encourage a little more peace.” For Alex Dunbar’s take, check out his post on CNY Central.
- A group of concerned citizens wants Arizona to phase out bipartisan elections in favor of Open Elections that would have the highest-polling candidates going to the general election regardless of political party. Supporters say the proposed Open Elections/Open Government Act would put an end to small groups of partisan voters effectively deciding elections by turning out for primaries. Paul Johnson, the former Phoenix mayor serving as chairman of the Open Government Committee argues, “It opens up the elections so more people can vote in the primary election, which effectively will end up opening up government to more ideas and more people who can participate." To get the full story, check out Joanne Ingram’s post at the Tucson Sentinel.
- The Englewood City Council is poised to end their policy of choosing the mayor and mayor pro tem on a secret vote. In the past, the council has held a secret ballot in an informal meeting before codifying their final selections in public. Critics argue that the practice violates the Colorado's Sunshine Law. District 4 Councilman Rick Gillit says he helped push for the change to help bring transparency to a city that some say has been slow to comply with Colorado’s open-meetings law. To read more, check out Peter Jones’ post on the Villager.
Tennessee State Senator Bo Watson is considering a bill calling for all public notices in Hamilton County to be published online rather than in newspapers. Notices provide the public information about city and county governing bodies' public meetings as well as zoning matters, public purchases and other areas. Supporters of the proposed bill argue that the current law requiring newspaper public of public notices amount to a "subsidy" for an industry losing subscribers because of technological change. For more information, read Tom Humphrey’s blog Humphrey on the Hill.
A new trend by those in power to keep public information secret from those who are not, is slowly spreading. From using exaggerated public records fees, to state laws, leaders across the country are continuing to come up with ways of preventing the public from knowing what is going on in their government...
The Tennessee Ethics Commission recently turned down a request from TNReport (an online newsource) for the number of complaints and investigations that have been received by the Commission. Citing a section in the state’s code that gives the Commission the right to preserve confidentiality of all its proceedings including investigations, the Commission’s Executive Director Drew Rawlins, said that making the records public could create problems from people who may be against some cases. Tom Humphrey shares how the Commission has never found anyone guilty of violating any ethics rules on Humphrey on the Hill.
The Sunshine Review was slapped with a $22,000 bill by Miami-Dade county in Florida, for requesting for public information. Other counties have provided the same information for free, including Palm Beach county (in the same state) and Harris county in Texas. Michael Barnhart, the Sunshine Review’s president is joined by others who feel that it’s an outrageous fee which is perhaps being used by the county to deter the public from getting the information they have a right to know about. Kristin McMurray writes all about it on the Sunshine Review.
After struggling to get a B in content, C in clarity and C in accessibility, the city of Costa Mesa in California has finally upped its transparency. In a new dramatic move, the city recently released a detailed report of all its employee salaries including full and part-time staff. Sunshine advocates praised this effort as a proactive one from the city, and emphasized how citizens will now be encouraged to become more involved in their government. Joseph Serna shares more on LA Now.
The California Assembly seems to be operating in the dark. In an earlier report by the Sacramento Bee, the Assembly said the public had no right to see lawmakers' current office budget documents because it could be wrongly interpreted as punishment of lawmakers who do not vote in favor of key votes - especially if their budgets have been significantly slashed. One such lawmaker who recently got the “punishment” is Assemblyman Anthony Portantino. John Seiler writes how a secret legislative assembly can easily become a corrupt one on Cal Watchdog.
Making sure that state publications appear in a timely manner especially when they are time sensitive, is one of the major open government best practices. A librarian for the North Carolina State Publications Clearinghouse at the Government & Heritage Library, Kurt knows all too well the importance of making sure that information is easily accessible electronically. See how he lays out other best practices on Government and Heritage Library Blog.
We're reading about stunning disrespect for the role disclosure plays in democracy, coming from Tennessee's Governor, who has apparently just exempted himself and his staff from disclosing the amounts of their income.
This shows an astonishing lack of knowledge and respect for one of the primary instruments of accountability in government.
Disclosing personal finances lies at the heart of a functional democracy. And if you doubt that, ask anyone trying to deal with the governments in Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Russia.
Getting public officials to abstain from accepting gifts, or to disclose their finances is so important that dissidents and reformers around the world risk their lives trying to impose these relatively simple disclosures. If the public won't find out where officials' money is coming from (in detail!), the temptation to accept bribes or self-deal will win out far too often.
In the disclosure forms where Governor Haslam apparently sees only political inconvenience, and the awkwardness of disclosing apparently vast personal wealth, we see the most basic kind of public trust.
By disclosing details of one's personal finances, public officials are saying "my official work is untainted by my personal interests, and if you doubt that, you can check."
Governor Haslam's Executive Order flouts the public trust embodied in that disclosure system, and places his personal and political concerns over the public interest and integrity of the very system he was elected to lead.
To exempt oneself, as a American public official, from financial disclosure rules, is to empower corrupt and ineffective governments throughout the world, and to undermine those who struggle to improve them.
Today I'm thankful for Taxing Tennessee! The blogger is Ben Cunningham and he is a watchdog on a mission with a focus on spending and taxes. While his main focus is Tennessee and federal spending (he pointed out the expenditures for his state delegation) he won't shy away from keeping tabs on other states as well. This week he has a post about Georgia's GOP resigning over a lobbying scandal. The principle feel of the blog is that accountability belongs in the hands of government's keepers, the citizens that give elected officials their jobs.
I think his biline says it best "This is the personal weblog of Ben Cunningham with thoughts about taxes, freedom, and the most powerful and important unit of government: The Individual, Sovereign Citizen."
Every week I climb into the depths of the local political blogosphere to find the Sunlight. I use this series to highlight local blogs that do a great job of covering local, state, and Congressional political news. This week I have highlights from Pennsylvania, Tennessee, New Jersey, Maryland, and Louisiana. In Pennsylvania, Policy blog describes how much the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spent on lobbying this past fiscal year. Is it okay for government agencies to use public funds to lobby other government agencies?
In Tennessee, Underdog looks into the lobbying expenses of the GoodYear Tire company and finds some interesting facts about what the company lobbies for and what former hill staffers are now on their pay rolls.
In New Jersey, Blog the Fifth has a great post looking into an earmark Rep. Garrett got for police training. He makes the point that because of the lack of transparency of earmark requests and how the press sometimes refers to them as “grants” it can make the earmark look bad no matter where it goes to. That is why we advocate for earmark request transparency.
In Maryland, Brian Griffiths uncovered that one of the appointees for Maryland’s Board of Education was an unregistered lobbyist. This information was not disclosed to the public and Brian questions why they were given the position even though they have no previous experience in education.
In Louisiana, Between the Lines talks about how most of the members of the Louisiana ethics board resigned after changes to the rules created stricter ethical standards.
Every week I climb into the depths of the local political blogosphere to find the Sunlight. I use this series to highlight local blogs that do a great job of covering local, state, and Congressional political news. This week I have highlights from
This week I have highlights from
This week I have highlights from
This week I have highlights from