In its final report, the Task Force on Open Government created by City Council President Anna Brosche found serious problems that need to be corrected.
Local government “should aspire to greater openness and transparency” the task force headed by Hank Coxe and Sherry Magill said.
Eye on Jacksonville concurs.
We have chronicled a number of problems we have had getting information from various agencies in the local government.
Some have been resolved. Others continue.
After a rash of stories statewide about government school teachers having sex with students, we asked the School Board for information about local teachers. That was two months ago. We just got an answer: They will provide the information, but it will cost us $107.
What we deduce from that is there must be a lot of hanky-panky if it takes that much clerical work to compile the information. We’ll leave it at that, for now.
Meanwhile, we asked the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office two months ago for information related to the number of officers, number of calls for service and the average response time, now and 10 years ago.
That set off a series of sporadic emails with the police asking for “clarification” of the simple request. We still don’t have the data.
Fifty years ago, when I was a police reporter, I would have driven down to 711 Liberty St. and asked someone like Inspector Robert Hobbs to get the information for me, and I would have had it within two hours.
Twenty years ago, I would have called Gary Higgins, who ran the research and statistics office, and he would have had it in an hour.
Today, reporters can’t even get into police headquarters without special permission! They can only look at whatever records the police choose to make available.
I knew every cop on the street and talked to them daily. I doubt that any local reporters ever talk to rank and file cops today.
The task force noted some of the same things we have seen. The city’s, and School Board’s, Web sites are not user friendly and information people might want either is not available or is far too difficult to find.
The city and School Board budgets are difficult to understand. The task force said the city’s budget presentation is “opaque.”
It recommended allowing reporters access to department heads. When I covered City Hall, I sat in on the mayor’s meetings with his department heads every Wednesday.
The task force also was concerned about making emails and text messages available to the public. I’m not overly enthusiastic about this recommendation. Not only is it a bit nosy, but you aren’t likely to see anything incriminating when they know you are looking.
Government was so open in the 1970s that I could walk into the mayor’s office while he was meeting with people, sit down and listen. True, if the conversation died, I always knew they didn’t want the conversation in that afternoon’s headlines, so I would get up and leave. (Then, I would call the participants in the meeting on the phone; one or more always would tell me what happened.)
It is important to have an open government process. The media should have been demanding more of it for years, rather than acquiescing as it was shut down gradually.
Eye is hoping that Brosche will follow up by seeking legislative remedies for the deficiencies, if administrative action isn’t taken.