Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Archive for the ‘Organizations’ Category

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.

Seattle Area Group Continues Mission Work In Drug-Ravaged Guinea-Bissau

by Matt Rosenberg April 30th, 2010

From Chris Collins, who was raised in Shoreline, just north of Seattle, and now works as a reporter for the Fresno Bee. With his family, he’s long been involved in mission work and would like to share this:

Flame is a Christian Seattle-based nonprofit that runs a school in Guinea-Bissau, one of the tiniest and poorest countries in the world. The West African country is quickly gaining an international reputation as the continent’s first narco-state. As the United States cracks down on the cocaine trade, Latin American drug cartels are increasingly turning to Guinea-Bissau and other poorly-governed states in West Africa as places where they can ship their product in bulk and then smuggle it into Europe. It’s estimated that the drugs that flow through Guinea-Bissau each year are worth more than the country’s GDP. As a result, many of the unemployed and poor in Guinea-Bissau are turning to this lucrative new trade instead of contributing to their country’s economy and society. Cocaine addiction among Guineans is a rising concern.

Flame is trying to help counter this trend. The trade school it has built in Canchungo, the country’s third-largest city, offers a post-secondary education that gives its students piratical skills that translate into jobs. It offers classes in sewing, computer basics, auto mechanics, and English. The school’s administrators and teachers are all native Guineans. The school has been open for more than two years and has more than 100 students. It has become a critical asset in the community. Eventually, Flame hopes to build similar schools in other cities in Guinea-Bissau and throughout West Africa.

Flame will host its annual fundraiser this Saturday, May 1, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Christian Reformed Church (14555 25th Ave NE in Shoreline).