President Obama issued a Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government in which he called for recommendations on making the government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative. The Whitehouse has announced an Extension of Phase III: Drafting of Open Government Recommendations which gives every citizen a chance to participate and make comments to draft recommendations that translate good ideas and lofty principles into specific actions that can be taken to achieve open government.
Two of the goals of The Dalles City Council over the next few years are Civic Responsibility and Government Transparency. These areas actually go hand in hand. As citizens participate in the governing process and government is accountable to those they serve, this encourages more participation and promotes greater transparency. We are facing serious challenges and we will all need to work together to find solutions to help our community continue to thrive.
Responsibility cuts both ways, and every generation of Americans shares the responsibility of participating in the democratic process. One of the foremost responsibilities of a citizen is to vote. If someone is not involved, then they have little room to complain. Participation in roles of active citizenship through public service is an important aspect of a free society. Hopefully, we will see more names on the ballot in future local elections. Anyone interested in serving on a committee or commission should contact City Hall and submit their name for consideration by the Mayor.
It has been very satisfying to see so much interest lately in the governing process, particularly at our City Council meetings. Please do not be discouraged by the process. There are obviously some things that might be changed to allow every voice to be heard, while still following correct procedures. I am committed to giving the public greater opportunity to participate in decision making at all levels of our city government. Citizens have a duty and an obligation to respectfully communicate their views to those who serve them.
People should also consider becoming a member of a service organization that works to improve our world like the Rotary or Lions Clubs. Service clubs can perform many services for their community and also support other worthy causes. Civic responsibility extends beyond government service into all areas of our common life together: church, school and other organizations. Volunteering time with Big Brothers/Big Sisters, the Hospital, Hospice or Families First can make a huge impact on the lives of those around us. Greater participation by citizens will make our community a better place to live.
Of particular interest is the civic involvement of our community youth. Mayor Nikki Lesich will soon be unveiling exciting plans to create a Youth Advisory Council. We should encourage the next generation to prepare themselves to run the world, and it our responsibility to model for them how to be good citizens. Seeking information and serving the community is an attribute we should pass along to the next generation.
But civic responsibility can only happen in tandem with the government’s duty to operate transparently. Transparency in government increases citizen access to information and helps to facilitate their understanding of the decision making process. It helps to instill public confidence and allows the informed participation of citizens. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.
There are some balancing needs which include the privacy rights and needs of employees and officials, other subjects of a confidential nature, and the ability of officials to discuss issues without fear of attack. Draft proposals and discussions of possibilities are not necessarily published. However, making information which is already available more accessible helps to provide sunlight through the window of government. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
One of the best ways of providing transparency in government is through the use of technology. The Internet has changed the way many people obtain information and there are ways of providing a searchable database of public documents which can have a great effect on the ability of citizens to find the information they want. Publishing this data on the Internet can also provide the additional benefit of saving on printing costs and can help promote environmental sustainability by reducing paper use. Another important new goal of our city is to develop a comprehensive Information Technology strategy.
“The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears,” President Obama said in the recent memo ordering the director of the Office of Management and Budget to issue recommendations on making the federal government more transparent. And at the local level, greater transparency in government can be a great help in promoting more citizen involvement in governmental affairs.
I am very pleased that the City Council of The Dalles has adopted goals and corresponding objectives which will promote transparency in our city government and encourage civic responsibility. We will be continuing to work alongside City Staff and other elected officials to make our city government even more efficient and transparent. I hope that our efforts will coincide with federal efforts to make this dream a reality.
(originally printed in The Dalles Chronicle)