Why Local Government Transparency and Openness Are Important

"Open government is critical to an informed public, and an informed public is critical to democracy"

                                                                                                                                                   - Judith Zaffirini

To begin, it is important to define "transparent and "open."  Transparent means easy to perceive or detect and is synonymous with obvious, undisguised, unconcealed, conspicuous, or clear.  Open means allowing access.  These two elements are important for a variety of reasons, to include:  ensuring the responsiveness and accountability of our local elected officials, to promote the public interest rather than self-interests, and preventing corruption.

There are many ways our local government can be open and transparent.  One of the most obvious ways is to make all public records and documents open and available online to the community.  There are several reasons as to why these records should be posted online.  First, the potential barriers of the research and copy fees would be removed.  A resident would be able to perform his or her own research regarding public records.  Second, online records offers greater access to more residents.  This greater access would serve as a deterrent for corruption and decisions based upon self-interests of elected and appointed officials.  Finally, residents would have instant access to public information.  This availability of records allows residents to educate themselves; form opinions, ideas, and solutions to local community issues; and be educated participants in local governance and issues.

As a part of openness and transparency, residents need to be allowed to observe and participate in the process of governance.  This requires the responsiveness and the willingness of elected officials.  The responsiveness to truthfully ANSWER (instead of side-stepping or refusing) residents' questions.  The willingness to actively engage in discussions and debates regarding community issues and solutions.  Felle and Adshead correctly noted that openness and transparency is a step towards a "contemporary [and democratic] ethos, one where citizens are treated as clients and customers, who have a right to a service, rather than supplicants for favors."

It is through open and transparent governance that residents hold elected officials accountable.  Accountable means "required or expected to justify actions or decisions; responsible."  A basic and given expectation that residents can have is to live in a clean, safe, and inclusive community.  In addition, in order to be held accountable, elected officials need goals, a position, direction, and/or vision for the residents and community they serve.  These goals need to be publically declared as well as ideas, policies, and strategies for achieving these goals.  Finally, it is a fudciary duty of our elected officials to conservatively and judiciously utilize our tax dollars (with monthly, detailed financial records being provided to residents).

When we have a hierarchical and paternalistic power structure, we don't have a democracy; at most, what we have is an oligarchy.