What is transparent government?
Transparent government is government that makes its operations highly visible to the public. From phone numbers of public officials to visitor sign-in sheets to contracts with vendors. Citizens should have access to this information at the touch of a button. And they should be able to talk with someone at City Hall to understand what it means.
What we're doing right: The Public Disclosure Process
Seattle has a strong public disclosure process, and for those who know how to use the process, it's very effective. I know how to use the process and have used it countless times in researching stories for my blog. I know several of the people who work in the public records section at City Hall by name, and I know they are committed to helping the public understand how government works for them. These people are an asset to Seattle.
What we could be doing better
Citizens looking for records can hit roadblocks at the point where they need help understanding what a record means or how it is connected to other records. This usually happens at a level above the Public Records section. I have been told by a department head that she didn't have to answer basic questions from me regarding her department's operation. When I appealed to the City Council for help, I was ignored. This kind of stonewalling should never happen.
What I'll do to help
As a councilmember I will push aggressively for transparency in government. I won't wait for citizens to come to me with complaints; I will reach out to them first, to let them know about the tools they have at their disposal, and I will actively intervene to help citizens who are having trouble getting information from their city officials. This will be a top priority for me.
► High Priority Records I will push for the Council to reorganize the Public Records Office so that certain kinds of information will be even more visible and easy to get to. Visitor sign-in sheets should be scanned daily and posted prominent on the Council's Web page so that citizens can see who is getting access to the Mayor and Council. Campaign donor information should be available at the click of a single button for the Mayor and all current CMs. If the other CMs try to stifle this effort, I'll put the information on my own official Web page.
► Citizen Help Desks for City Contractors Each city contractor should designate a a person to answer questions from the public about how much money they get from the taxpayers and how they're spending it. They should also make available information on any money their employees and their families have contributed to political campaigns. The City should create a simple, easy-to-use Web site listing all current city contracts, organized by Department. For each contract, the Web site will link to contract documents and will provide the name and contact information for the "Help Desk" person responsible for answering questions.
► Taxpayer Transparency Tool The King County Assessor's Office has discussed implementing an online "taxpayer transparency tool" that would allow voters to see how much their property taxes will go up each year if they approve a given tax levy proposal. The tool can also be used to show renters how much rents will increase if the landlord passes his property taxes on to them, which is what usually happens. This will allow voters to make more informed decisions when evaluating levy proposals. I would enthusiastically support such a Transparency Tool and would push to expand it for sales tax increases as well.
► Legislation Input Disclosure I'll propose legislation that will require, for each new bill a CM proposes, that the sponsoring CMs disclosed who helped them write bill and what the helper's affiliations are. That will help the public to know who's helping the CMs create legislation, and why.