Thursday, October 28, 2010

Open Government: What the Gubernatorial Candidates Said and Did Not Say

I did a post with 5 questions on open government for the gubernatorial candidates.  I sent the 3 major campaigns the questions and followed up with e-mails and telephone calls.  I asked the campaigns to respond so I could post their answers.

The candidates position on open government is significant and should be given more attention during the campaign.

In truth, open government and transparency is an important issue.  Without it we will not know if the new governor is living up to the promises that got him elected in the first place.

This is what I got back.  The Emmer and Dayton campaigns, nothing.  The Horner campaign sent me an e-mail stating that they appreciated the questions.  James Horan of the campaign stated they will try to answer the questions before the election, but they may not have the time to give "more thoughtful analysis".  The last sentence said.  "Please contact me after the election if you'd like to discuss the specific points."

Given the emphasis on transparency in the political dialogue, the responses from the candidates would seem to indicate that transparency, openness, and accountability are not important.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Microsoft/Minnesota Contract Not In The In-Box Yet .

The Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology is wanting to take its time in honoring public data requests for access to copies of the Microsoft agreement that the state just signed.

Some people have asked for a copy or access to the contract, but they have been told they need "an official, formal Chapter 13 request".  Chapter 13 is the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

I scratch my head on this one.  The document is readily available for the public to inspect, but there is a hook.

The state and Microsoft agreed that parts of the contract come under a non-disclosure agreement.  The state to protect themselves need the formal process.  A request may take a while.  The lawyers have to sort it out.

With the bureaucratic barriers, and the contractual secrecy, What is Microsoft and Minnesota trying to hide?

Monday, October 18, 2010

How Do the Gubernatorial Candidates Stand on Open Government?

As the governor's race heads into the final weeks, there is still time to ask the candidates some important questions about openness and transparency in government.

Candidates always support openness-at first blush.  But when it comes to spending money on it or forcing people and companies that work for or with the government to be open, it is often a different story.

But make no mistake; open government starts at the top, with the governor, and they have a great deal of discretion to determine what the public can know about its government.

And with major issues like budget cuts, health care and taxes facing the next administration, there is no time like now for the people about to make these important decisions to commit "showing their work" as they go about the people's business.  We may want to know how and why leaders came to the decisions they made.

Personally, I have worked with former Senator Mark Dayton and Representative Tom Emmer on open government issues.  Tom Horner I have not, but his background as a reporter makes him aware of these issues.

Here's what anyone interested in open government should ask:

1. Do you think that the Minnesota Government Data Act effectively accomplishes the twin goals of  maximizing public access to government data and protecting citizens from governments improper collection and use of personal information?  If not, what changes would you propose to the law to make it effective?

2. In relation to Minnesota's government data and information, what does the term transparency mean to you?

3. Our current governor tells us that most e-mail records of his office are not official records and do not need to be retained.  If you are elected, will you take a similar position?  If not, what will be your approach to retention of records and data of the governor and the governor's office?

4. Do you believe that meetings with regulators, and other state agencies have with businesses ought to be subject to the open meeting law?

5. Will you pledge to make your calendar of appointments, meetings, and state related travel available for public inspection?

I wish to thank the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information for the original development of some of these questions.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Open Government Good For Your Health?

Freely available public information appears to be important for health plans of Minnesota. The Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune reported that a representative of the Minnesota Council of Health Plans used the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act to lobby for their interests with the Department of Human Services in Washington.

I think that is great.

I do find it ironic though that these same health plans lobby against public accountability and transparency about their operation of state-funded programs. They helped defeat bills that might reveal, for instance, how much they spend on administrative costs.

It is hard to imagine why citizens, or even legislators, should not be able to see and understand where their tax money is being spent. Why should it be a secret to see how the health plans are spending public monies on such programs as Medicaid? Our public programs currently managed by these health plans lack transparency and accountability.

Audits and reports are a key factor in assessing how well plans like Medica, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Health Partners are taking care of us.

But the Minnesota Council of Health Plans disagrees. They recently fought bills in the Legislature that would have brought sunshine and more government oversight to their businesses.;

If we're going to give them tax dollars to take care of Minnesotans, we shouldn't allow vendors who receive  millions of dollars in public money to thwart the Data Practices Act.

I am glad the Minnesota Council of Health Plans have figured out to use the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act for their own benefit.  Now perhaps they will figure out how to comply with it for ours.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Wal-Martization of the Minneapolis Public Library System

Today I went to a Hennepin County Library branch in Minneapolis.  I looked for the new book non-fiction section.  I went around twice where it had been in the past.  I could not find it.  I then asked the staff.  I was told new non-fiction are no longer displayed.  They are now placed in the regular book collection right away

I recently went to the Sumner branch.  Sumner had a strong collection of African American documentary and movie media which was part of the Gary Sudduth collection.  I was surprised at how small the collection was from the previous time I had been there.  I asked staff what happened.  They said that DVDs now "float".  That means if a dvd is taken out at one branch and returned to another it remains at the returning library.  Therefore the Sudduth Collection is torn apart.

At the downtown library I used to go on Saturdays and get 5-8 dvds consisting of documentaries, a couple of Hitchcock movies, and maybe a comedy with Bob Hope. The collection is now very thin and the choice is limited.  For non-fiction fans there is no one stop place for all the new stuff, either.

Bigger is not always better, there are some things that have been lost with the merger.  There have been changes in operation that have impacted the service and atmosphere of what the Minneapolis Library System was.

I will bet you the Hennepin County Commissioners know nothing of the various operational changes and their negative impacts, but avid users of the libraries in Minneapolis sure do.