Monday, March 16, 2009

Transparency in State and Local Government: Time for Indiana to Enter the 21st Century

According to a report discussed in today's Indianapolis Star, Indiana ranks next to last in terms of making government information accessible online. Only Mississippi ranked below Indiana.

As part of annual Sunshine Week, teams of journalists and journalism students scanned government web sites in every state to look for 20 types of public records. The results of their study was released on Sunday.

Records that were found not to be on-line in Indiana included political campaign contributions and expenses, disciplinary actions and against physicians and lawyers, and environmental citations/violations.

This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart. Politics in Indiana and, Indianapolis in particular, is dominated by backroom deals. The public is almost always shut out of the decision-making process. Over at Advance Indiana, Gary Welsh today explores how the Capital Improvement Board kept from the public for nearly ten years that the Board has been operating at a deficit. Unfortunately, the CIB has been allowed to operate in semi-secrecy for years and has never been held accountable by the Indianapolis City-County Council. When council Ed Coleman, tried to get information from the CIB, that any member of the public is legally entitled to get, he was ostracized within his own Republican Party that he felt he had no choice but to leave the GOP.

The greatest check on the abuses of government is that the misdeeds of those in power will be exposed publicly. Those who would abuse the public trust will scatter like the cockroaches if a little light is turned on them. Unfortunately, Indiana's open records law falls far short of doing that. Try sometime to get records that will expose misconduct or legal violations from a government official sometime, and see how difficult it is. Or ask Diana Vice, for example, how easy it was for her to get information from government contractors, such as Tremco. It didn't matter that Tremco was subject to the Open Records law. Tremco actually hired a couple big law firms and filed a SLAPP lawsuit against Vice to try to stop her from asking questions whether Tremco was violating the state bidding law. As a government official or government contractor, if your fearing your activities will be exposed, that's probably because you're doing things you shouldn't be doing.

Previously I proposed that the City of Indianapolis place all city contracts on-line.

A Good Government Proposal for Indianapolis: Require That All City Contracts Be Posted On-Line (11/21/2008)

That is as good a place for the City of Indianapolis to start to bring sunshine to the city/county government. The cost of scanning and uploading the contracts is virtually nothing. The only reason to oppose such a suggestion is that city's contractors would prefer to remain as anonymous as possible, quite likely because they don't want someone to connect the dots between their political contributions to and the contracts they receive.

So Indiana is 49th of 50 states on on-line records, behind only Mississippi. It's time to move up in the rankings.

See also: Legislative Recommendation: Time for the Legislature to Slap Down SLAPP Lawsuits (11/8/2008)

1 comment:

Patriot Paul said...

I have often called Indiana the Mississippi of the north. Not only do we have atrocious education and graduation rates, and have the dubious distinction of one of the most unhealthy and obese populations in the U.S., have more township government than any other state, but now ranked next to last in accountabililty, while our General Assembly deep-sixes reforms and samples Sugar Cream Pie. On the heels of being raped by property taxex, we are tied as 9th worse with Jacksonville,Fl for vacancies as Hoosiers are leaving by the handful. Can you blame them?