The internet and sunshine on governmentOur once and future House Republican Leader Bill Dunn is looking not merely for a way to bring local politics into the sunshine, but he wants our elected officials to be able to send instant messages to one another-and for us to be able to see them.
From a House Republican Caucus press release:
“With the technology available today, we need to update the Open Meetings Act,” Dunn stated. “We need to make it easier for officials to conduct business, while balancing the public’s right to know. I believe that this can largely be solved using technology to bridge that gap.”
Dunn is working on a bill that would allow elected bodies to set up websites where they can instant message one another. These “conversations” would be available for the public and the media’s viewing. Dunn says this method of letting the sunshine in is even more beneficial to the public since the average citizen often has difficulty attending called meetings.
“Two elected officials could carry on a conversation at their convenience and at the spur of the moment if needed, knowing that the public will have full access to their discussion,” stated Dunn. “Our main goal is to not burden one party or the other, but make it easier for all parties involved.”
This is actually a brilliant idea (something typical of Bill Dunn, though he is humble enough never to admit how good his ideas are) on several levels.
First of all, Dunn is quite right about the difficulty of the average person in attending called meetings of local government bodies. People have families and lives and responsibilities (if anyone understands this, it is Bill Dunn). The very things that keep the best people from running for public office also keep many of them from attending public meetings. For my own part, I follow local and State politics with a great deal of zeal, and yet I have to make time to attend what meetings I can-it is very difficult. The internet has made following State affairs so much easier when I live nearly four hours away from Nashville. Can't be at this morning's House Agriculture Committee meeting? That's fine, because I can tune in live via the internet and watch just as if I were sitting in the hearing room at the Plaza. Can't be at the Capitol for an evening session of the House? I can view the session as it is happening online, and if my schedule doesn't allow me to be there to watch it live, everything the General Assembly does in both Houses and in all committees is archived by date and is viewable.
It is a great system-so why shouldn't the same logic and a similar system be applied to our local governments in Tennessee?
The instant messaging idea is a really novel approach, because local officials can't then use the common complaint that the Open Meetings Act doesn't allow them one on one conversation that is sometimes vital to striking the deals and negotiating the compromises that make good government work. This would allow local representatives the freedom of discussion without compromising the openness and public scrutiny that both the law and the dignity of the democratic process require.
I'd take it a step further and say that our local governments need to make meetings viewable on the internet so that anyone can have access to them at any time of the day or night. While I realize that for some localities this would require a greater effort than for others, many places in Tennessee could accomplish this at very little expense to the taxpayer and yet they still have not done so.
It is time to bring local government into the sunshine for the world to see-in cyberspace.
Labels: Tennessee politics