Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Sunshine Week and Corruption

Sunshine Week and Corruption
This week is Sunshine Week, Mar 15-21, 2015. I've had a number of conversations with people who have bandied about the word corrupt as in the system is corrupt.  It normally means that an official is or is thought to be taking money or making money under the table deals, but it seems to have blossomed into a word that means that officials, the agency and more broadly the system doesn't serve the people or citizens.  They serve themselves. They hide in a bureaucracy of rules  
The antidote is sunshine; another word is transparency, ensuring that the public has information available simply because officials are conducting public business.  This week, Sunshine Week (Mar 15-21) promotes this idea.  Our town and city officials are very much aware of the their responsibilities under the Maine Freedom of Access Act through training provided at various MMA and Town, City, and County sponsored meetings and workshops.  If you have ever received an email from any town official, it states that the email is likely to be a public record.  Maine law makes almost all meetings public and all records public, even drafts of minutes of a meeting.  As one might expect there are some exceptions; an employee evaluation and disciplinary actions except the final written decision.  
The legislation, although comprehensive, needs to be reviewed periodically as we move from one new technology to the next.  Just as we receive Emergency Management push notifications of missing children, schools have begun to use push notifications to let parents know about school closings. These parent phone numbers are probably confidential but emails may or may not be confidential. 

Many organizations are putting more and more information on the web giving us greater access but right now our Freedom of Access Act is passive.  It limits the destruction of records but still puts the burden on the citizen to request rather than making it public policy for communities and schools to easily make available information.  The actions of the Governor of New York shutting down a commission to investigate corruption when it got too close to his allies and his office, explains why we need to be more active use of the newest technologies to communicate with citizens.  More eyes creates participation. A commission is after the fact when the perception or corruption has already occurred.  Gone are the days when involvement in government is reading the newspaper.  governments need to maximize their connections to citizens.  Then we can hope that the meaning of corruption will not expand.