Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Beware Of Open Government Counterfeits

by Carrie Shaw May 17th, 2010

As momentum builds behind open government initiatives, examples of politicians and bureaucrats playing the public transparency ruse are popping up more and more.

A recent opinion piece in the Washington Post by J.H. Snider highlighted how local government entities tend to be more entrenched in hindering public access to information as a means to protect bureaucratic turf and incestuous business-as-usual practices. Snider knows a bit about pushing from the outside against closed door democracy. As president of iSolon.org, Snider’s mission is to “focus on the most difficult areas of democratic reform─where elected officials have a conflict of interest in bringing about reforms that might reduce their own power.”

Snider sites the problem of “fake transparency,” or the efforts by public officials to “seek democratic legitimacy but not the accountability that comes with open government.”

The examples are numerous: secret meetings on controversial issues, destroying of emails, omitting documentation when posted online, excessive fees for document requests, personal intimidation and harassing phone calls — all firsthand experiences for Snider in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

There’s no mincing of words with Snider — open government reforms are necessary because politicians want to protect their power and control over money and resources for their own benefit.

It’s the “presumption of guilt” position when it comes to human nature and the corrupting influence of power.

Locally, Washington Coalition for Open Government is taking the lead to guarantee public access and accountability through legislation, legal efforts, and education. President, Toby Nixon and former Seattle Times executive editor, Mike Fancher have led the charge with legal and legislative victories including the Supreme Court of the United States case involving state Referendum 71 and stopping efforts in the state Legislature to limit access to government and the people’s right to know.

Fortunately, technology is making the public crusades of people like Snider, Nixon, and Fancher and organizations like WCOG, iSolon.org or the National Freedom of Information Coalition true agents of change.

Despite the positive exposure and influence these leaders and their organizations are having, they know that the true change agents lie at the grassroots level. Open government initiatives will die the death of a thousand public relations campaigns unless “we the people” remain engaged, informed, and vigilant.

Our civic infrastructure is about people taking the time to connect with the democratic process. Now through June 13, you can be a change agent by exercising your right to participate in a Countywide Community Forum on the topic of Public Trust: Customer Service and Public Engagement.

Bring your voice to a forum.

2 Responses to “Beware Of Open Government Counterfeits”

  1. Bob Yoder says:

    Thank you for publishing this article and four the resources of your site, in general. The local governements I cover on my beat – City of Redmond, Lake Washington School District, and Evergreen County Public Hospital — will pay attention to your site, as well.

  2. Bob Yoder says:

    It’s quite obvious from my previous message, I either had too much coffee and or I forgot my 5th grade spelling lessons. This is a great site! I’ve already passed it on to Redmond, WA. City Council and hope a few will sign up for the Forum. Thanks for this tremendous resource; and I thought myself one of the lone wolves.