Sunlight in the Garden State

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Here’s a politician — New Jersey Assemblyman Jim Whelan – who appears to understand the value of transparency. He recently introduced a bill in the New Jersey state legislature that would require the online disclosure of public records local New Jersey towns, school districts and state agencies.

One day — maybe one day soon — democracy in New Jersey might look something like this:

Anyone with an Internet connection goes to his hometown Web site and (click) views the police report on the burglary that happened down the street.

And then (click) scans health-inspection reports for favorite supermarkets and restaurants.

And then (click) finds the municipal budget, and (click) sees who in the neighborhood wants to build a McMansion and (click) even learns how much town employees make.

We love it! It’s a common sense approach to governance whether at the local or federal level. Whelan’s bill analogy on the federal level would databases on federal government spending, or toxic release inventories, or violations by government contractors. Or….well, you can make the list yourself. (And when you do, let us know.) Citizens want to actively participate in political processes and expect to be able to find information on the Web – why shouldn’t that include access to health inspections of local restaurants, state budgets and government contracts?

According to Steven Clift, whose work I hugely admire, states are very much in the lead in this arena. While our work focuses solely on Congress, we’d still be interested in knowing if your state or city is doing anything interesting in this arena.

Transparency is a gateway to public trust. Legislators are wise to catch up.