Every citizen of Jackson contributes to the funding of city government. Each of us pays for some fractional part of employee and elected official salaries, for their cell phones, iPads and laptops, their Internet access, copy machines and their disk storage. So it seems logical and fair that we ought to be able to access that public information quickly, easily and without having to go down to city hall—and then be charged for copies and "staff time." We've already paid for it.
When you get right down to it, we already own that information. We shouldn't have to pay for the city government's inability to organize and archive its data. In today's digital, data-driven world, we wouldn't accept that from any other large organization or company. Here are a few suggestions for changing how city government manages information:
- The city should mandate that, effective immediately, all documents must be tagged and archived into a public-access database. Most are already created electronically, and this can be done at little or no cost using equipment and technology the city already owns.
- The city should appoint a Public Information Accessibility Officer whose job will be to facilitate access to public information, not prevent it. This function could reside in the Jackson city clerk's office, which has the responsibility for public records.
- Every department's budget should be linked to this public-information accessibility effort, and their budget should be reduced by some percentage and transferred to the city clerk's budget if they do not comply.
- The city should become a model for the rest of the region and the state by crafting a comprehensive policy on electronic communications. I'm sure the Jackson Free Press and many of the other media outlets that cover the city would be happy to participate in setting the guidelines. Any and all city business conducted by text message, tweet, Facebook post, email or phone must be part of the public record, with rare exceptions.
Let's be honest: The city won't reach its potential unless we have a fully informed citizenry and press asking the right questions. Having access to public info is crucial to creating an honest debate about the city's issues and problems.