Sunlight Weekly Roundup: Lack of public input “an affront to the whole idea of transparency in government”

  • Transparency advocates maintain that while the Coraville city council might not have broken Iowa’s open meeting laws, their quick approval of a $9.5 million agreement with Von Maur department stores without a public hearing violated the spirit of government transparency. Citizens maintain that the council’s agreement prevented  taxpayers from having any input on the taxpayer funded agreement. Instead of discussing it before the vote in meetings, council members talked individually with each other or city staff, which meant they did not have to comply with the state’s open meetings law. “Certainly the way it was conducted is an affront to the whole idea of transparency in government,” argues Kathleen Richardson, executive secretary of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council. For Gregg Hennigan’s take on the issue, check out his post at The Gazette.
  • According to a new report from the Justice at Stake campaign, Michigan led the nation in campaign spending for 2009-2010 on state high-court elections. According to the study, Michigan spends more than $4 million more than Pennsylvania, the next state on the list. This is due in large part to the special-interest spending in Michigan. This spending is concealed from the public, a fact that accounts for the variation in estimates of total spending. The report maintains, “In Michigan … interest groups and political parties dominated the airwaves, estimates of campaign spending ranged from $9.1 million to $11.1 million (with $6.8 million to $8.8 million in non-candidate spending). Regardless of the precise figure, Michigan’s judicial election spending was easily the nation’s highest in 2009-10.” For the whole story, read Ed Wesoloski’s post on the Michigan Lawyer’s Blog.
  • According the Jennifer Williams of The Lens, despite a state law requiring public bodies to make their budgets available to the public before approval, and to hold well-publicized hearings to gather citizen input, only six of the 43 charter school boards in New Orleans could show that they even attempted to comply. Many board officials claimed to not know about the law and said they would try to comply in the future. Williams maintains, “Of the 35 boards that responded to us, 11 agreed that they don’t comply with the law and promised to look into making changes for next year or took immediate action to comply. Another 22 didn’t respond to our follow-up communication that explained, in fuller detail, what the law requires.” Larry Hammond, a three year volunteer for a New Orleans charter school says that the school only makes records available if parents request them. He argues,“There’s a problem here. As a citizen who is paying their taxes, that’s a problem.”
  • California Governor Jerry Brown has shut down the government transparency website that tracks financial disclosure statements created by his predecessor,  Arnold Schwarzenegger. A note on the website claims that information once available on the site can be found on other state websites and provides links that information. Open government advocates objected to the website’s closure, claiming citizens could find it more difficult to track spending. Phillip Ung, a lobbyist for Common Cause, the government watchdog group, said there is a “large public interest in having a centralized disclosure, which is exactly what the transparency website was.” Read more of David Sider’s post on the McClatchy Blog.